Online shopping affects local businesses

May 30, 2008 7:25:19 PM PDT
Some business owners complain that people are shopping online too often. That's the message ABC7 News got from Thursday night's ABC7 listen's meeting in San Anselmo.

When Norman Rockwell painted his perfect Americana, he could have used San Anselmo in Marin County. It's quaint, charming and like many other small communities, also smarting, a bit.

"I want people to start thinking about what if every small business in their small town closed," said Helen Gregory from Bloomworks.

Gregory owns a flower shop, and if those sound like fighting words, she is not alone in San Anselmo. Merchants have gone public in a battle against Internet commerce.

"You live in a town, not the Internet. When you buy on the internet you're not helping the town," said Joe Ranno from Flash Photo.

For Ranno it's more than lost taxes, but also ma-pop values. His photo business has lost 50 percent in the past five years, because people rarely use film and prefer digital storage to real paper.

"Everybody takes pictures and they put it on their phones and say, 'Hey, look at my dog," said Ranno.

Ranno works out of 200 square feet that fittingly, he has leased from a video store. That's another business losing market share to companies like Netflix and Comcast.

"He didn't need as much space. We don't need as much space. He pays less rent. We pay less rent and he pays less rent," said Debbie LaFranchi from Silver Screen Video.

The old space where Joe spent 21 years is 1,400 square feet. That's impressive for a photo processing store. But there's a bit of irony in that because generally when someone goes into business, he hopes that with time it will get bigger, not smaller.

"If I was looking at numbers, I would have been out of business ten years ago," said Ranno.

Except for the intangibles. If Joe worked for someone else, he wouldn't have a business to pass along to his son, which counts for quite a lot after 21 years.

"Everyone has a computer in this country, and it's killing small business," said Joe's son Miles Ranno.

But not yet -- not when a town embraces the retro, and fights back.

"This doesn't mean there aren't great deals and you shouldn't buy on the Internet, I think everybody does, but no exclusively," said Gregory.

Maybe we should call it the personal touch premium.


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