Opinion: Big-box chickens coming home to roost

Bob Berwyn

How about a little love for local businesses?

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — The big-box chickens are coming home to roost, and if some local governments aren’t questioning their unflinching reliance on sales tax revenue from out-of-state-corporate retailers, then citizens should be.

Shortly after the Dillon Blockbuster shut its doors, Borders filed for bankruptcy and said it would close its store at Dillon Ridge in April, leaving yet another hole in the local commercial landscape. Analysts said the sluggish economy and a failure to adapt to the emerging electronic landscape were the key reasons for the chain’s failure.

That may be, and there’s very little a town government can do to influence the national economy. But what it can do is work with local business interests and citizens to create an economy that’s not reliant on the ups and downs of national chains.

And the same holds true for the ski industry, by the way. Our reliance on publicly traded corporations as key economic drivers will bite us in the rear end one of these days, and it will hurt a lot more than Borders closing.

They’re all just too big. I know it’s tough to swallow that concept in a country where super-sized is considered the best value, but there is such a thing as too big. Look at the Wal-Mart in Frisco, for example. I don’t want to pick on a single retailer, and I do shop at Wal-Mart, but the place is so vast it creates its own weather, with snow blowing off the roof and building drifts around the building for days after every storm.

The impacts of big-box retailers are too much during the construction phase. Our land up here in the mountains is our most precious commodity, and to give it up for acres of consumer goods and paved parking lots has never made any sense to me. They’re not built to the scale of our landscape and our communities. Let’s face it — every single large-scale commercial development in the county is an eyesore, no matter how many trees the planning commission insists be planted as part of the deal.

They’re too big in their operation, in terms of social impacts, and impacts on small, locally owned businesses. The list goes on: Traffic, wetlands, greenhouse gas emissions … all things we can’t afford. And, as they say, the bigger they are, the harder they fall. It’s a lot tougher to fill the gap left when a big-box store closes down.

And, let’s face it, these operations were marginal in a community of this size during the boom years. There’s no way they can be sustainable under the new economic norm.

There is an alternative. I know it’s much easier for a small-town government to get its fix of sales tax revenues in big gulps, but when the well goes dry, we die of thirst. Often, local governments turn a cold shoulder, or, at best, are indifferent to small local businesses, probably because when they look at the big-box guys, they get dollar signs in their eyes.

Instead, town planners and financial experts should roll up their sleeves and sit down with local business interests, perhaps with the Summit Independent Business Alliance, to chart a sustainable, long-term course for a mutually beneficial economic future. Taking the easy path may be appealing for the short-term, but developing deep-rooted economic relationships with local business interests will pay dividends in the long run.

All that said, it’s easy to be a critic, so I’d like to offer a specific suggestion for the Borders location. How about opening up a showcase store — a bazaar, if you will — featuring booths, displays and retail space for local manufacturers, artists and craftspeople? That could include companies that make ski and snowboard-related gear, photographers, painters, wood-carvers … the list is endless. The store could also include a space for workshops and presentations, and locally owned coffee shop to provide concessions, because we don’t really need that much more commercial space, we need community space.

Instead of throwing community tax dollars after big-box retailers, use that money to help pay the rent in the soon-to-be vacant Borders location and help incubate local businesses in the process. That way, the closing of Borders is not a loss, but an opportunity.

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4 thoughts on “Opinion: Big-box chickens coming home to roost

  1. Outstanding public comment. Precisely on target and perfectly focused. The blind forces of rampant development are what the County Commissioners should control, not fall victim to.

    I urge every citizen of this county to understand that the OHV community brings 10’s of MILLIONS of dollars to the area every year, and limiting access to OHV travel puts the economic future of your county at risk. Every trail you close or allow the federal government to close takes dollars out of your pocket that will have to be replaced with increased property taxes. As the community becomes too expensive and you lose population, the taxes on those remaining increase further, a vicious cycle created by rejection of the real economic base of this county – the people who visit it for recreation.

  2. Thanks Bob, once again, for your salient commentary on big boxes! A monster box in an already local business deficient Silverthorne is all that you mentioned in your article, and even more sad. Call it greed, quick fix, or whatever you will: I call it bloody bewildering, just to be polite! Sherie Sobke

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