Dick & Joe vs. Mom & Pop
“Dick vs. Joe!” the headline screamed in Sunday’s paper. As if we are supposed to care about the looming showdown in Oregon between national retail giant Dick’s Sporting Goods, Inc. and the Oregon retail fixture Joe’s Sports, Outdoor & More. Dick’s just opened a store in Portland last week, the first of perhaps 10 across the state. This could spell trouble for Joe’s, we are led to believe by The Oregonian. Coincidentally, this could also spell trouble for the newspaper if Joe’s starts advertising less because of lost sales to Dick’s, and Dick’s doesn’t make up the difference.
While the newspaper attends to the battle between big box retailers, the real victims in the retail wars are the remaining locally owned, independent sporting goods stores struggling to compete. Joe’s is not one of them. Joe’s founder Norm Daniels sold majority interest in his company last year to a private equity firm in San Francisco. The Oregonian says the firm told it a year ago “that it would sell off Joe’s in a few years.” It’s possible the next ownership group could be local, but I doubt it. The article speculated that Dick’s could buy Joe’s, although that was not considered likely. So look for Joe’s ownership to remain out of state.
Dick vs. Joe is simply a battle of two non-local chain retailers for sporting goods supremacy in Oregon. Since Joe’s got its start here, we still think of them as one of us. It would be natural to pull for them over Dick’s. But Joe’s is one of us in memory only. Joe’s majority owners are elsewhere now, and they control Joe’s future. Our choice to spend money with Joe’s may be only less bad than a decision to support Dick’s, from the standpoint of local economic benefit. Better, however, to skip both chains and shop instead at a locally owned, independent sporting goods store. That keeps more of our money in our community, instead of heading to Pittsburgh, in the case of Dick’s, or San Francisco, in the case of Joe’s. With a recession looming, this argument is stronger than ever.
Bottom line: Oregon doesn’t need Dick’s. Dick’s needs Oregon, so it can keep satisfying shareholder demand for growth. Dick’s arrival here is part of the chain retail trend so well documented by Stacy Mitchell in her book, “Big-Box Swindle”:
Consider that in 1996, the top ten retail chains accounted for a remarkable 15 percent of consumer spending. Less than a decade later, in 2005, the top ten captured nearly 30 percent of the more than $2.3 trillion that Americans spend in stores each year. Two or three corporations now dominate each retail sector. As the chains have gained market share, tens of thousands of independent businesses have disappeared.
Dick’s is hell-bent on dominating the sporting goods category and Joe’s will do all it can to protect its turf. But the story isn’t Dick vs. Joe; it’s Dick & Joe vs. Mom & Pop. Local owners of independent, usually small, stores are the big losers in the battle of big box opponents. And so are the communities that watch these stores disappear. I’ll let Stacy Mitchell have the final words:
The effect of mega-retailers on local economies does not end with shuttered local merchants and their laid-off employees. Most local retailers buy many goods and services locally: they bank at local banks, advertise in local newspapers, carry goods produced by local firms, and hire a range of professionals, from accountants to Web designers. Every dollar spent at a locally owned store sends a ripple of benefits through the local economy, supporting not only the store itself, but many other local businesses, which in turn provide jobs — often the sort of well-paid positions that form the backbone of a city’s middle class and the core of its tax base. When chains displace local merchants, all of these economic relationships are severed. Money that used to flow through the community — from a local office-supply store that hires a local accountant, who in turn uses a local bank that lends money to a new entrepreneur, who stocks up at the local office-supply store, and so on — ceases to do so.