To fight ‘invasive species’ area indies have a new weapon

Peter Rose

Having been a part of a local and independent family retail business since 1972, my awareness of the arena in which I play has evolved as time has elapsed.  

I have perspective that has some breadth and depth, having experienced retail effort in malls, strip centers and downtown environments. Change has been drastic.

External societal change is one thing. How we internalize change is fascinating to consider. After all: Change is not automatically bad. Much change is good, and inevitable.  Fighting all change is silly, and fruitless.  

But saying that does not change the fact that some change is bad. Some change needs to be resisted with as much force as can be mustered.

What has risen to the foreground for me is the awareness of how changes in regional spending choices have had such a deep and lasting effect on the well being of that region.  

As a 17 year old person, it never occurred to me. As my company expanded during the 70s and 80s to have stores throughout the Detroit Metro, it never occurred to me.  

Managing my business, or at least my role in that business, was all I focused on.  As such, I was intent on keeping up with the fast changing of the retail landscape, not defensively, but from the perspective of being relevant and keeping my business moving forward. Growth is exciting.

But I didn’t see the forest for the trees; didn’t recognize that an army of varied invasive species had taken over the national, regional and local retail landscape, even as I watched pillar after pillar of local, often venerable brands we relied on crumble and fall. 

I didn’t. I actually respected the national competition, and kept trying to compete, even as the angle of tilt of the field I was playing on kept increasing.  

It came to be that nearly all of the businesses that had comprised the regional retail industry were gone.  Nearly all of the locals were gone, and then I suddenly understood what had happened. Then I realized the extent of the damage that was done to the communities that those local businesses had operated in, serving the needs so much better that the invaders could ever hope to.

And I suddenly felt revulsion and disgust.  

The malls I used to enjoy visiting and comparing and passing judgement on were filled with pretty much 100 percent invasive species.

They came – very quickly – to mean nothing to me, other than something to be avoided at all costs. The truth dawned on me that I had watched a nearly complete takeover of my industry in less than 20 years. 

I came to realize it. Most customers just saw new retail come, old retail go, and had no reason to consider what was happening, what had happened.  

Most never did realize it and still haven’t connected those dots.  

There are two named generations below mine out there now, considering their options, with no awareness of what used to be.

The national model is designed to siphon as much money as they can out of the local economies they invade, replacing authentic retail with places that resemble authentic, but are not.  

Once most of the locals get ousted, the money that circulated around the cities they served is captured, sent out of the region and state, and devastating city after city, all across America. The loss of local, independent business destroys communities.

In 2007, I learned that support groups for local organizations that were trying to serve their local indie business communities existed, pushing back.  

I began to understand that many cities were becoming ghost towns, but that there were some remarkable and electric examples of cities that were doing all the right things to ensure that they didn’t wither and die as change became permanent reality.  

I decided to be the catalyst to create such an organization that championed all things local and independent, and did so with my wife and friends, and now, many more.

The rules are all about a determination to band together. Businesses, non-profits, schools, residents. All of those elements of a community need to see those elements as totally interdependent. We all need each other to retain the character of our cities. Only if we see all of those elements acting in concert, together, can we avoid the decline, or even the end of our communities.

An organization that serves local independents now exists in Wyandotte -Love Wyandotte.  It is a model that I believe will make a difference for everyone that lives around here, not just the businesses. 

It serves Wyandotte, welcomes all, simply by reminding folks to look for the sign of Local and Independent, and do your business there. 

Watch what happens.

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