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Independent retailers are the city’s ambassadors

Independent retailers are driven by a passion for the products that are available in their stores and the needs of the community they live in.

At our shop, every book on our shelves is there because someone on our staff advocated for that book. Our booksellers are committed to finding a book that the customer will love. At every indie shop downtown, you will find someone dedicated to finding that perfect fit for the customer. Indie retailers create places where people can connect to others around shared interests. Those connections spill into our community and evolve into new ideas, friendships and collaborations.

Indie retailers reflect the growing and changing culture of our city. When presented new circumstances, local owners can make decisions and implement new ideas in ways that national chains cannot. The independent retailer is the creator of fashion that is copied in national markets. Our brands are often quirky and individual because an independent business can never be complacent. Our willingness to try out new ideas is a key part of what keeps our downtown lively and friendly.

The first ambassadors for our city are the people who work at independent retailers and restaurants. Retail staff are the local guides for what is best and unique about Boise. Helping people find Freak Alley, the Anne Frank memorial, the best local coffee spot, and other places off the beaten path is the way we create the reality of “Boise Nice.” As independents, our success or failure is driven by the expertise and ability of our staff, and we invest in helping them acquire the knowledge and expertise for all aspects of their work.

Indies are an economic powerhouse that needs greater consideration and acknowledgement. Local businesses recirculate dollars in a community many more times than corporate chain stores and online retailers like Amazon.

Not only are independent stores better for a local economy, Amazon significantly damages local economies. In 2016, Amazon and its third-party sellers sold $547 million of retail goods in the state of Idaho, displacing 1.6 million square feet of retail space, 2,616 jobs and $27 million to $30 million in uncollected sales tax, according to a Civic Economics study completed in 2018.

Unlike large corporations, we create jobs without millions of dollars in tax breaks, we are essential for the health and strength of a local economy, and we promote culture and community connections.

Indie retailers are open-handed in charitable giving. On average, independent businesses donate around 10 percent of their profits to mostly local organizations. This is a much higher rate than the 2.8 percent donation rate of the top 1 percent of income earners. Donations from local businesses include time and space in their establishments as well money and products.

Independents typically choose local causes to support, causes that are connected to the interests of the owners of the business. One excellent example is Lil Kurik, owner of American Clothing Gallery in downtown Boise. Lil frequently supports local charity Artisans for Hope by giving them a space to retail their goods at the Saturday market. Local retailers are more generous with their time and treasure because their generosity has a direct and measurable impact on the place they live.

Indie bookstores have successfully grown while major chains have faltered. To succeed in this business or in any other local business, you must invest, be creative, collaborate and connect with others, and you must find the path that works best for you. It pays off: Customers show that they want to frequent local retailers that reflect the personality of a city. One example: The number of independent bookstores increased over 35 percent nationally between 2009 and 2015. The opportunity has never been brighter for individuals who want to create a community-centric retail store.

Boise has entered a new era of downtown growth, and we need to make a commitment to what Boise’s downtown is going to look like. Rising rents and population influxes are creating pressures that will force independent retail and retail workers out of downtown. Without active investment, Boise will follow the pattern of other cities and push its local businesses out of the downtown core.

Boise’s local culture is what has garnered its national attention as a great place to live. Exploring and supporting ways to work with local business serves multiple purposes in our community, but the most important mandate is to fill our downtown with local people, local places and local personality.

Laura DeLaney is co-owner of Rediscovered Books in downtown Boise.

About Laura DeLaney