While watching the news this morning, I couldn’t help but notice the larger
retail companies getting frustrated and somewhat whiney about the slowing
economy. I suppose operating at such tight margins, subtle downturns in
spending can have a dramatic effect on their bottom line. In the quick snippet
I was watching, the larger retailers were offering incentives for people to
cash their rebate checks at their stores – ensuring this economy continue a
As a child, my friends and I used to ride our bikes downtown. Not downtown
like you might imagine in a city but a little downtown that defined our
existence and freedom. There were many little stores bearing various names of
either the people who owned them (Mike’s Ice Cream), a fruit (Cherry Pit Cafe),
or a playing card (Fredrickson’s Ace Hardware). And in the mornings when we
were lucky enough to catch an episode of Mr. Wizard, we would head to the
hardware store in search of various items to complete our task for the day. It
was quaint, safe, and unique in every way.
I go back there often as my parents still live close by. However, it doesn’t
look anything like the downtown I remember. A new mall was erected on top of
the old buildings with newer stores – chain stores. Most of the places of my
youth are no longer there although a few remain and remind me of the downtown I
knew as a bike-riding child.
So what do these two seemingly disparate thoughts have in common? These
larger companies that have spread themselves throughout the country, raised
rents, squeezed mom & pop stores toward bankruptcy by offering more product
at cheaper prices through bulk buying are now upset, sad, and looking for
consumer assistance due to the presently tough economic times. So much so that
they are incentivizing consumers to spend their rebate checks (which should
probably remain unspent and saved as more difficult times are looming ahead) in
But this, of course, should not fool us into thinking these organizations have
a new found consciousness or care about the state of our union. In fact, many
of these organizations continue to ship jobs and functions overseas. It appears
in the end, as in the beginning, it is only ever about one thing – the bottom
line. And I cannot help but think it incredibly embarrassing and unethical for
these companies to claim some sort of national interest in baiting consumers to
spend rebate checks at their stores.
As a believer in America, capitalism as a whole, and the free market economy, I
realize that squeezing out smaller players over time is prone to happen and a
natural – in unfortunate – course of events. Darwin knew from whence he spoke.
However, I can’t help but muster very little sympathy toward these big
chain-based companies as why shouldn’t they also feel the pain of hardship as
their smaller mom & pop based predecessors did before them. In this case, the
pain should even be healthy, forcing them to streamline their operations, and
perhaps some good will even come of it.
And as a small business owner – albeit of a virtual based software company – it
is tough not to root for the little guy. It is tougher, however, to imagine
that the world of my youth will be in such stark contrast to that of my
children. And thus, as if holding tightly onto hope, I continue to seek out and
shop at the mom & pop stores that remain. For sure, the purpose of distributing
these rebate checks is to stimulate economy and it flows just as well through
the registers of small shops as it does for big ones. In the end, let’s all do
some good by doing well!