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The ‘Shop Local’ message is missing its target (opinion)

Jenna Palacio
Tribune Guest Columnist

Lake Tahoe residents get it: shopping local supports small businesses and helps maintain infrastructure, like roads and sidewalks, by generating sales tax revenue.

Sure, we might shop online or make a pilgrimage off the hill for items not readily available in our town, but for the most part we want to shop locally and do. However, there’s an issue here — unless you’re in the market for auto parts, an Asian massage, or vaporizing accessories, South Lake Tahoe retail falls short of offering the things that people who live here really need to buy. So when our town’s only office supply store closes and a previously failed Smart and Final is announced as the new tenant of the building, it’s clear that there is a disconnect with the commercial property owners and policy makers who haven’t bought into the importance of shopping local. Lame retail pun intended.

Currently, there are no regulations to steer what kind of commerce can go into new or existing buildings. For example, area plans and city ordinances don’t limit how many of the same type of business can be in a concentrated area, and thus the former Pier One building will soon be home to yet another thrift store. (Author’s note: It’s not my intention to go on an anti-thrift store or anti-Capitalistic rant in this article, and I write this with all due respect, as surely antiquated regulations and a lack of innovation get in the way of the process.)

Love it or hate it, we are past the point of banning “big box” stores, and the business with the highest bid and best cost-per-commercial-square-foot ratio wins. That’s fine for the free market and gets empty or outdated buildings filled with profitable tenants, but it doesn’t make sense for growing our economy or boosting sales tax revenue by spurring local spending.

Despite the affordable housing crisis and underemployment issues residents struggle with, our community has buying power and is a force in making or breaking local commerce. Our local spending generates hundreds of thousands of dollars that not only foster environmental improvements, but also maintain roads, parks and public safety services every year. We can grow that value if we work together.

It’s time to redirect the “shop local” public service announcements and reframe that call to action to encourage developers, Chambers of Commerce, commercial property owners and city policy makers to prioritize attracting businesses that provide goods and services that residents want to buy. Write to or meet with your city council and planning commission members, attend public workshops, and have your voice be heard. And please, somebody open a shoe store!

Jenna Palacio is executive director of the Tahoe Regional Young Professionals, a foodie and an outdoor recreation enthusiast. Find her on Twitter or Instagram @jennasierra or learn more at TahoeTRYP.org.


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