Staying local in Iowa City

In an age of online shopping, the nation’s small retail businesses are slowly disappearing. However, many Iowa City entrepreneurs thrive as they stay small and cater to the local crowd.

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Convenience has become one of the most important factors when it comes to shopping. Unfortunately, it can also ultimately come at the cost of our local businesses.

With the click of a button, you can order just about anything on eBay or Amazon. This convenience often comes at the cost of individuality and supporting the local economy. While products from larger corporations often provide for a larger audience, they often lack uniqueness. Since local businesses have a smaller audience to cater to, their products typically fill a certain niche. Therefore, they fulfill consumers’ specific wants and needs more effectively.

Even so, the rapid increase in online purchases raises the question: will small, local  businesses be able to keep up with their online counterparts?

 

The National Trend in Small Businesses

According to the Small Business Administration (SBA), small businesses in the country have slowly been growing since 2016, and their economic presence is far from substantial. Several of these businesses are putting more effort towards staying alive in the economy. According to Wolf Street, the number of online stores is forecasted to grow exponentially in the future. Additionally, the sales of department stores have been slowly decreasing according to the US Commerce Department.

 

Local Businesses vs. Online Shopping

There are multiple differences between buying from local businesses and shopping online, such as the substantial contrast in competition. Local businesses do not have to compete with other stores as much due to their trend of having a unique selection, while online shopping tends to have more competition as different shops usually sell similar products.

The factor of convenience is one of the major distinctions that is threatening small businesses. With online shopping, it is much easier to purchase items in the comfort of your own home rather than going to a shop in person.

Many other contrasts separate online shopping and local businesses from each other, such as the cost of their goods and their growth rates. However, in terms of keeping the economy intact, local businesses help circulate money in small communities while online shopping tends to help the economy on a national scale.

The rise of online stores is a large concern for multiple local business owners. However, some of these shops in Iowa City are able to thrive and maintain income due to their unique specialties and services, such as DeLuxe Bakery, White Rabbit and Pump it Up.

 

DeLuxe Cakes & Pastries

DeLuxe Cakes & Pastries, located in a Summit Street cottage, opened in 2003 with the goal of changing the community.

“I opened [DeLuxe} to bring European bakery skill and products to the Iowa City area. I also wanted to be a front runner in bringing a business back to a residential neighborhood. With the spread of malls in the 80s and 90s, we lost neighborhood businesses,” said Jamie Powers, founder and owner of the bakery.

Powers also believes that current technology usage has negatively changed interactions with others. However, her business may help to reverse these effects.

Locally owned businesses build strong communities by sustaining vibrant neighborhoods, linking neighbors in a web of economic and social relationships, and contributing to local causes. [Larger corporations] have their place in a mass economy, but they provide no personal touch [with customers].”

— Jamie Powers

“The human experience is lost these days in phones,” said Powers. “The bakery brings back the nostalgia of timeless neighborhood shops around the world.”

In addition to creating a traditional neighborhood gathering place, Powers believes that DeLuxe has also impacted the community by employing adults with disabilities, catering to community members in need,  and purchasing ingredients from local farmers. The personal connection between the bakery and people in the Iowa City area, Powers argues, are essential in building a greater sense of community.

“Locally owned businesses build strong communities by sustaining vibrant neighborhoods, linking neighbors in a web of economic and social relationships, and contributing to local causes. [Larger corporations] have their place in a mass economy, but they provide no personal touch [with customers].”

 

White Rabbit

Another prominent local business in Iowa City is White Rabbit. First opened in 2006, the boutique sells the work of local artists, ranging from handmade products to clothing and accessories. Known for their distinct products and relaxed atmosphere, the store has become one of the most reputable shops in town.

“White Rabbit has [created] a safe and fun space to shop that is accepting and supportive of people’s individuality while supporting real people in our community,” said Cortnie Widen, the owner of White Rabbit.

Small businesses keep [money] in the local economy and support real people in our communities. They also provide a unique and different shopping experience [and] product selection.”

— Cortnie Widen

West High student Emma Barker ’22 especially enjoys shopping at White Rabbit for its unique clothing selection. In addition to selling new products from a wholesale buyers platform, White Rabbit works with local vintage pickers to market thrifted clothing. By reselling used clothing, the store is also reducing their impact on the planet.

“It’s made me more self conscious about what I purchase and how much that purchase affects the environment,” Barker said.

Not only does Widen value the importance of acceptance and environmental friendliness, but also the positive impact her business has on the community.

“Small businesses keep [money] in the local economy and support real people in our communities. They also provide a unique and different shopping experience [and] product selection.”

 

Pump It Up

In 2011, Pump It Up opened at West High with the intention of serving snacks, coffee, and assorted beverages to high school students. Diane Fickel, the intro to business teacher, also founded Pump It Up to provide students the valuable experience of running a business.

“I wanted to offer students an opportunity to run a business in [a] school setting and really learn hands-on,” said Fickel.

[Supporting local businesses is] how your community thrives. You have to support your local businesses for them to grow.”

— Diane Fickel

Fickel also emphasizes how important local businesses are to the growth of communities and other small enterprises.

“[Supporting local businesses is] how your community thrives. You have to support your local businesses for them to grow. If they grow, your community is going to grow and with business, businesses attract businesses. So that’s how your community thrives because business is everything.”

 

 

Although both local businesses and online shopping help with sustaining and circulating the economy, they each have their own strengths and weaknesses. For online shopping, it is less expensive and easier to access nationally, while many small businesses die out due to high rent prices or a lack of customers. On the other hand, when it comes to uniqueness or creativity in products, local businesses often dominate over shops online. Besides their differences, both are essential in providing consumers with goods, needs, and services.

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