On Oct. 1, a group of people with businesses on The Commons in Ithaca went to the Common Council to ask for some relief from the damage done to their businesses from the lengthy reconstruction of the pedestrian mall. One end date for construction — July 2014 — was already missed and the next — November 2014 — is going to be missed. Given that two completion dates will have been missed, there is reluctance on everyone’s part to pick a new completion date, although a best guess is next summer.
Clearly, the construction has been trying for everyone who comes to The Commons, whether for work, play or business, but for this group it has been especially difficult because their livelihoods and investments are being threatened.
Why one business does well and another doesn’t can only be answered by a set of complex questions, with the question of impacts from construction being one of them. Some businesses appeal only to a narrow segment of buyers’ needs, some businesses do particularly well with visitors, some are more vulnerable to online competition and others have a broad customer appeal. Operating a successful small business can be complex and difficult. All of these things and more can affect how a business performs. A small business has to be flexible and able to respond to changes in consumer desires, changes in products, changes in environment and changes in competition.
Having spoken to several of my fellow retailers since the start of construction, I found that there isn’t any conformity of experience, as one might expect. There are those who are doing well, making adjustments where necessary, and those who are suffering. That being said, I can only report on how 15 STEPS is doing with assurance. At the end of the first year of construction we found ourselves with a healthy gain, and we are headed to an even bigger gain this year after an extraordinary visitor season and national predictions for a strong holiday season.
Lengthy construction surrounding a business can be a stress that is difficult to overcome, and in many instances not every business survives. The goal is to help as many, if not all, of these independent businesses to survive.
Government can have a role in doing this, but consumers can play an even larger one. Shopping local is, and should always, be, top of mind. There are many good reasons for this. Among them is the maintenance of choice because independent business is more likely going to cater to local wishes than large corporate stores. Independents generally pay better wages. Of the money spent with local business, 73 percent stays in the community compared to 43 percent spent at non-locally owned business. Small business gives a great deal more support to not-for-profits than large business, especially as a proportion of income. When profits stay local, it increases the community’s wealth, tax revenue and standard of living. Local business also contributes to making a community unique and authentic.
There is no more important time than now, during this time of stress from construction on locally owned, independent business, to embrace the idea of shopping locally and supporting the community that we live in.