Small business exists all across the United States, but the ratio of smaller, privately owned businesses to larger, corporately owned businesses can be particularly high in small towns such as Arkansas City.

In recent months, Arkansas City has said goodbye to several small businesses, including a family-owned grocery store, a home décor store, a small boutique and a restaurant.

While the reasons for those closures are diverse, there likely will be questions left unanswered about why these businesses have closed and what impact that will have on our local economy.

Perhaps more important, what kind of impact the closing of local businesses has on the sense of pride held by citizens of Ark City?

Local interviews

Ark City Daily Bytes recently interviewed four individuals with differing experience with small business.

Patrick McDonald owns McDonald’s Sewing and Vacuum. He has owned businesses in Arkansas City for several years.

McDonald also served as a city commissioner and mayor in the recent past.

Kerri Falletti serves as director for Cowley First. She was raised in a small town and has what she calls a passion for small business.

Evelyn Shoup is a retired schoolteacher. Her husband built houses in Arkansas City. They had a small business in Arkansas City, but closed it after several years of seeing no profit.

Paisley Howerton recently became the chief executive officer of the Arkansas City Area Chamber of Commerce. She also has worked for and co-owned small businesses in Arkansas City.

Each of these individuals had a unique perspective on the subject of small businesses.

Small businesses and economy

Why are small businesses important to the local economy?

“One of the ways small business is important to the local economy is the fact that when you spend money at a local business, you are keeping a building occupied,” Howerton said.

“In small towns, this is very important — whether it be a downtown business or not — but if it is a downtown business, you are not only keeping a building occupied and open, but helping to maintain an atmosphere that will draw people in. People still very much love the ambiance of downtown shopping and will make a special trip just for that, in some cases.”

McDonald had a slightly different position. He sees business owners as more robust as a group, rather than strong by themselves.

“Individually, each small business has almost no impact on the economy. We don’t make much money, we don’t hire many people and we don’t collect much sales tax. But as a group, we are a significant force in each of these areas,” he said.

Falletti focused on the buyer’s perspective.

“Money spent in our communities stays in our communities. For individuals that start businesses here, be it small retail, service or manufacturing, it supports local families as owners and their employees,” Falletti said. “This keeps families here to live and attract visitors to shop, dine, and stay, which all brings additional dollars into our communities.”

Small business contributions

So how do small businesses contribute to small-town communities?

“Small businesses are the social power in small communities,” McDonald said, “the source of most community donations, events and social activities. Small business are also a voice of the people in local government — taxes, services, protection and more are key to small business survival, so there is always an effort trying to find a balance.”

“Small businesses contribute in a variety of ways. They provide employment to themselves and others,” Falletti said. “They quite often support local events, organizations and schools. They bring people into our communities, which in turn brings in dollars to support communities. They also often provide the first impression of the community to visitors when they come to town.”

“I believe small businesses contribute to small-town communities greatly. One of the ways is, as I mentioned before, they have the potential to draw consumers in,” Howerton said.

“Also, more often than not, small business owners are part of local boards, committees, and work groups that are focused on maintaining and improving the cities and towns they live in. When communities as a whole are thriving, it can only be assumed that the small businesses are going to thrive, as well.”

Shoup, however, pointed out that small businesses provide goods and services that might not otherwise be available in Arkansas City.

“That is how they contribute to the community — they fill a need for goods and services. Each (service provided) had a name associated with it. Some of these became generational, carried on by the children who built on and continued the legacy of their parents’ lives’ work, making it their own,” Shoup said.

“There are memories held by those (who) frequented the businesses in days gone by, and the customers’ families remember who you went to for car repairs, to buy an appliance, to get a new pair of shoes, to get your plumbing repaired, to buy a new sofa. With local businesses, you get personal service, and with it, you have the very core of the town, the fabric of which it is made. That business met a need held by the citizens who lived here.”

Benefits of shopping local

Each individual was asked about the benefits of shopping local.

“Shopping local is vital for the success of small businesses,” Falletti said. “When we drive through town, we like to have shopping, dining or socializing opportunities. By shopping local, you help to ensure that we will continue to have these opportunities. When leaving town or shopping online, local businesses lose those dollars and it makes their success much more difficult.”

“Local business owners stand behind their goods or services. They will make it right if something needs to be replaced, repaired, exchanged or returned. Another benefit is not having to travel out of town to shop,” Shoup said.

“There’s added costs to out-of-town shopping by having a large item shipped and delivered here. Exchanges require more travel or shipping the items the other way. Local businesses deliver, set up and pick up the old item being replaced, exchanged or returned. Some come to your home to make repairs, to install the new item, (or) help with deciding what item is needed. The customer gets personal service on a first-name basis, not a repairman out of Wichita who has to phone separately and (have) an appointment set up as to when he can come to check out the problem.”

“If you’re lucky, you’ll get someone who is familiar with that brand of washer or dryer, or can repair your heat/air, or will have the personal commitment to doing a good job for you, a stranger that he or she has never met before,” Shoup added.

“There are so many benefits to shopping local,” Howerton said. “In a small community, you are supporting individuals who are close to you, people who attend the same church as you do, who have kids that go to school with your kids. When you support locally owned businesses, it’s easier to imagine how your hard-earned money is making a difference in someone’s life. Also, local businesses tend to support each other, which creates a strong bond and network.”

“The only real benefits to shopping local are convenience, service and, generally speaking, better quality at lower prices. Not cheap products, nor the least expensive, but quality products at a reasonable price,” McDonald said.

“But service is most important. No product is perfect, and when there is an issue, there is nothing like being able to talk to someone face to face that can help you resolve your issue, from learning to use the product to service or repair issues down the road.”

Financial impact

The financial impact of local businesses in a community is a bit tougher to address. This encompasses several aspects of the finances of a small business, such as reinvestment, payroll and upkeep.

“It is vital to keeping the money reinvested here, not in a national, multimillion-dollar chain of stores,” Shoup said.

“Local businesses are run by people who live here, who buy their goods and services here, remodel and improve their stores, expand if there’s a need, pay taxes here, send their children to school here, support local causes and events. They weave into that fabric of what makes a town thriving and successful.”

“Small business owners depend on us as patrons to shop local and support their businesses. These are our neighbors and friends that have invested themselves to support our community by opening a business. Entrepreneurship is very risky, but entrepreneurship drives a community forward,” Falletti said.

“Next time you find yourself saying, ‘I sure wish we had _______ in town,’ think about how willing you would be to start a business to provide it. It is a scary thought. I encourage you to shop local to support those that have taken that risk.”

“Ultimately, when business is done locally, the consumer is also investing in what it takes to keep the community strong,” Howerton said, “for example, supporting the school system, sponsoring local sports teams, road repairs, etc. When the community is strong, so is community spirit, and it’s important for consumers to realize this and be proud to keep your tax dollars local.”

McDonald had a slightly different view. “Many people will tell you that it keeps the money in town, but I don’t think this is really so,” he said.

“Most of the money goes to buying more products to sell, so it goes out of town anyway. The big impact is local jobs, especially for young people; property values; and sales taxes — in my case, much more collected from out of town than in town — to help fund city services and taking the burden off of property owners.”

Small businesses and pride

Small businesses can contribute some to community pride and spirit, an important but not easily measured facet of small business that several individuals pointed out.

“Most of my answers are not what people want to hear, but is probably closer to what is really happening,” McDonald said.

“You can see in any town where small businesses have closed up that the community is hollow. Empty buildings, appearances declining, notable lack of community pride and spirit. Small businesses are the heart and soul of the community. The more small businesses there are, the more healthy and vibrant the community is.”

“Many of these businesses provide a variety of options and enhanced quality of life that people are looking for when identifying a place they can see their family living. This helps grow population, grow schools, grow the economy and grow our community,” Falletti said.

“Small businesses are important to the local community because they belong here,” Shoup said. “Not only do they help to build up the economy of a small town, they become a part of the heritage and history of it. Often the small business that is locally owned and operated is based on the skills and interests of the person(s) who invests their time and money into it.”