Write Again . . . And I hope I’m wrong

Published 2:57 pm Monday, January 9, 2017

Please allow me — indulge me — a bit of personal rumination before I get to that which I think will be the main point of today’s endeavor.

My parents moved here — to Little Washington, as it was affectionately known then and now — from Tarboro in 1936. My mother was a farm girl from Edgecombe County, when my father went to Tarboro in 1934 to open a Belk-Tyler store, where he met his future wife-and-my-mother-to-be.

They made Washington their forever home, until we brought him to the Outer Banks after my mother died in 1989. Pop died a year later. I miss them both, of course.

Growing up the son of one who earned his living in retail — a department store — made me aware of the hours one puts in when engaged in that line of work.

Something I clearly remember from all those years was how adamant my father was about spending his/our money locally. If something couldn’t be gotten at Belk-Tyler’s, then try to find it elsewhere in town. Even items outside a department store’s inventory, such as furniture, automobiles, most anything you might need, he always insisted that we purchase it here, even when there might be a cost differential not in our favor.

He earned his living here. He wanted his money to stay here.

When the retail shopping paradigm began to change, especially when a mall opened in Greenville, and offered extended shopping hours, it definitely affected this market.

The Belk people encouraged (required) that the store here extend shopping hours, in an attempt to encourage consumers to spend their dollars here, rather than out of town.

Now, some of the local main street business owners didn’t like this. That was understandable, but consumer spending practices were changing. It was change, or not change, at the risk of decline in business. It was as simple as that. As I mentioned, the paradigm was changing.

Which brings me to the continuing emphasis on the “Shop Local” marketing strategy, with which we’re all familiar.

As much as I applaud such efforts, and hope such is effective, I really have my doubts as to its success.

We know, we really do know, that these appeals probably won’t have great effect in people’s thinking when it comes to spending their money.

As in, when a former first lady, in an effort to reduce the pregnancies in unwed girls, told them to “Just say no.”

“Just say no” just didn’t work very well. And so, perhaps, the same can be said of “Shop Local.”

Instead, give the consumer practical reasons to stay home when spending his/her money. Use special sales, loss leaders, point out the savings in gasoline, time, hassle. Appealing to hometown or home county loyalty alone, or primarily, probably won’t greatly affect consumers’ decisions as to staying here, or going there. (As in Greenville.)

All of which is an oversimplification of a larger economic-cultural reality. This I recognize. It’s a tough nut to crack, for sure.

It’s just that I don’t think, however well-intentioned, the slogan “Shop Local” is the main answer to the challenge.

But it’s just one man’s opinion. And maybe he’s wrong.

He hopes he is.