Wow. 2016 was a rough one for Anchorage businesses. I don’t think there is a single local mom and pop that didn’t experience a noticeable decline in sales throughout the year, and most notably during the holiday season. There are of course many theories about this…from the state’s own economy being in the toilet with ever consuming debt, to the uncertainty of the greater system after that dumpster fire of an election in November (I think we still have a mild hangover). But I really think the biggest part of this giant hit to our local small business is this. The internet. The thing which is hosting this little post.

Remember when all the small towns were up in arms about WalMart when they were coming in and decimating small local economies? Well, that is kind of exactly what is happening now, but on a much larger scale. So many folks are turning to Amazon and other sites to do their quick “click and ship” shopping and it is hurting some very real local business owners. Hard. Now we aren’t saying that you should never use Amazon – we do. And we love it! And free shipping to Alaska? Hell yeah!! – but remember that each click takes a few pennies (ok, more like lots of dollars) out of your friends and neighbors pockets.

We have already lost so many gems in this town this year – shops that have been staples for years and years – and if we don’t reign this trend in, we are going to lose more. Those awesome little shops with one of a kind things? The shopkeeper who knows your name and asks how your kids are? The place on the corner that calls you when they just know you are going to love something that just came in? That is all going to go away. I think our UPS guy is pretty great, and I’m pretty sure the regular mailman on our route is some sort of a saint, but that doesn’t mean I want my shopping experiences to be whittled down to delivery men and boxes.

The week before Christmas a customer was in making some holiday purchases. When I asked if she was honing in on the holiday gift buying finish line, she said “Oh. I did all of my shopping online. But now it is so close to Christmas that things won’t ship on time so I had to come out and go to actual stores.” I think my heart actually broke a little. You know that scene in the Grinch when his heart gets bigger and little springs and screws go ‘ping’ and ‘boing’? That was my heart – but in the opposite direction. And you know, this girl was not alone. Not even close.

We really need to reign this in. This online buying thing. It really is having a very dramatic, and very real effect on our local small business landscape. It is already too late for some of our favorite local haunts, but it doesn’t have to be too late for all. Please. PLEASE. Think before you click. Can you get that in town? How devastated would you be if _______ closed? While of course many local shops have online personas as well – Etsy, their own point of sale websites, etc, etc – which is awesome!! And we aren’t saying that the internet is bad (no Luddites here!)…..just be aware of who and where you click from.

I love Anchorage. I love how tight-knit our community is. I love that we are so unique. Let’s not allow the big giant interweb and the convenience of stored credit card information and free shipping ruin it. Because that would be the ultimate sad.