A local solon attended a Pitt Bradford event in which economic development or community revitalization or some such was the main topic.
Grow the enterprises you already have, an expert advised.
I’m not clear on the recommended methods for doing this. It does make some sense to nurture existing enterprises, especially where the proprietors are local residents. They have invested themselves in the community and are committed to it as a setting for their businesses and their lives.
But who is, or who are, supposed to do this boosting or growing or encouraging?
A few days later a local businessman reminded me that local businesses contribute greatly to the community in a number of ways. And sometimes it seems that they get little appreciation or recognition.
Thinking just of the retail establishments in the community, I remember when I was one of the kids out there hitting them up time after time. Will you buy an ad in the “Bugle”? Will you contribute prizes for the fundraiser? Will you give us some materials to make a float? How big an ad do you want in this year’s “Tiger Lily”?
I also remember being a downtown retailer, and being asked to give, to buy an ad, to provide prizes.
Not just retailers but other businesses were asked to give. American Extract, Barrentan, North Penn—these companies were not selling anything to students, and some were not selling anything locally. How many Port Alleganians needed bates and extracts for tanning? How many bought bottles from Pierce Glass?
Pittsburgh Corning did not market locally, but contributed lots of materials for school buildings and the hospital. Sometimes when the hospital was having a budgetary crisis, the company would kick in maybe $15,000, not as part of a building program but to help make ends meet. As for building the “new” hospital and then enlarging it, of course PC was a major supporter, and its employees and those of Pierce and North Penn and American Extract were willing to pledge.
Local businesses sponsored the drum and bugle corps, and helped Star Hose and the ambulance service.
So of course the community supported the local businesses right back, right?
Wrong. Not enough to keep them open, in quite a few cases we can think of. Way back when I lived in New York’s Southern Tier West, I would see residents of Pennsylvania’s Northern Tier West shopping at Westons Mills cash-and-carry grocery store—some of them school administrators, local officials, and captains of industry.
When I had a business here, I believed that community members did not owe me their “custom” just for being here. I had to offer them goods and services they wanted, on a par with what they could find elsewhere. The quality had to be satisfactory; the price had to be right.
There was also the advantage of generally lower overhead, which should help me be competitive. And there was the convenience of being close at hand. Also, as a local retailer, I was accountable to other members of the community.
I think local businesses still feel that way, or at least most of them do. And they expect us to at least check with them to see if they have the items we want, priced fairly.
The local businessman speaking with me gave as an example of community service the fireworks display Mick Caulkins organizes at the Fourth of July. Me, I could do without fireworks, or would be willing to watch them on Channel 3. I can think of any number of ways to spend an equivalent sum on worthy causes. But I am in a tiny minority of people who don’t get a thrill from local fireworks shows, the tradition, the noise and the smell.
Mick collects some money from other local business people, and covers the rest. “And I don’t think he gets much recognition for this,” said the businessman. No, probably not.
There are local franchises, and then there are genuinely local businesses. Some “chains” are not known for contributing to local causes. One is Sheetz, and one is Rite Aid. They employ some local people, and they pay some local taxes, but they don’t dig down to help scouts and students and swimming pool repairs. They are not receptive to displaying donation containers or displays.
Support and grow local businesses? Great concept. How do we do it? One way is as individual consumers.
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A former resident would love to have copies of the 1950, 1951 and 1952 “Tiger Lily” editions. Do you know where she can find them? Someone out there may have them for sale or to give away.
E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Call 814.642.7552.