The Big {BAD} Box Store

boxIt will probably come as no surprise that we weren’t super thrilled at the idea of an LL Bean opening up in Mashpee Commons, and were more than a little bummed to see a line out the door the day they opened.

Why, you might ask? We couldn’t help but think of the small and local retailers that sell outdoor gear and apparel like Black Eel Outfitters in Dennis, Goose Hummock Shop in Orleans, and Mocean Cape Cod, which is literally around the corner in the Commons, and all of the customers they wouldn’t get that day and the many days ahead because this box store decided Cape Cod was the perfect spot for their next location.

The constant argument people make in favor of box stores is that they are better for the consumer as they bring lower prices, and jobs to the area.

The cheap price narrative is often a false one for many reasons. In many cases, local stores that sell the same products as a box store charge the same prices in order to remain competitive.

Additionally, box stores often lure customers in by promising low prices (even putting the low cost items in the front of the store as a way to prove it), and then will charge higher prices on other items throughout the store (in order to cover their CEO’s million dollar salary). It’s easy to end up spending more because it’s cheap. Who hasn’t walked into a Target for one thing and come out $200 poorer with a whole lot of things you don’t need?

And if the price is in fact cheaper, you might have to ask yourself: why? Are the materials cheaper (leading to a lower quality item)? Is it being made in a factory overseas where people are undervalued and underpaid? Is the staff of the store making a living wage?

Speaking of staff – how many net jobs does a box store actually bring to a community?

Research shows that “in the few years that Wal-Mart was expanding fastest in Iowa, the state lost 555 grocery stores, 298 hardware stores, 293 building supply stores, 161 variety shops, 158 women’s clothing stores, and 116 pharmacies,” which on average leads to a  2.7 percent reduction in average retail employment…and a decline in county-level retail earnings of about $1.4 million.

And Wal-Mart is not the only box store about which to worry. When a Home Depot or a Lowe’s opens in an area, small local hardware stores go out of business. When a Home Goods (or its next iteration) opens in a community, small shops that sell gifts and housewares and picture frames go out of business. When an Old Navy or a Gap or a Kohl’s opens up in the closest strip mall, small local boutiques go out of business.

So, when an LL Bean opens up, what do you suppose will happen to the small outdoor retailers? I guess we’ll leave it up to our community to decide with their dollars, but I hope that soon we’ll see a line out the door at Mocean instead.

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