Another one bites the dust

My favorite music store is closing, yet another mom-and-pop to shutter or shrink in the face of a drastically altered retail marketplace. Music Millennium is closing its shop in Northwest Portland after 30 years, leaving only its flagship location on the east side to continue operating. Its owner says the Northwest store has lost a bunch of money in the last three year, including $93,000 since last August.

Everyone knows music stores have been extremely hard hit by online competition such as Amazon and the easily consumed digital songs available at iTunes and elsewhere (yes, I am among those who have purchased music online). Music Millennium also happened to be located on one of Portland’s most popular shopping lanes, Northwest 23rd Avenue (or trendy-third, as the locals say), where rents keep escalating. The owner said he wasn’t able to negotiate a lease deal with his landlord that would make it possible for the store to stay open.

But there’s more going on than commercial victimization due to disruptive technology or ruthless landlords. As a representative of a Northwest Portland business association told the Oregonian: “There is an important substory here, that is with regards to the demise, the loss of independent local merchants. Not only in Portland but all around the country.”

In the interest of full disclosure, I am on the board of Sustainable Business Network of Portland. SBNP is a non-profit working to build vibrant neighborhoods and communities by promoting the health and success of independent, locally owned businesses. I could go on and on here about what it means to communities when their local merchants go out of business. Instead, I urge you to head to your locally owned neighborhood bookstore to pick up a copy of “The Big Box Swindle: The True Cost of Mega-Retailers and the Fight for America’s Independent Businesses.” As the liner notes say, “Stacy Mitchell illustrates how mega-retailers are fueling many of our most pressing problems, from the shrinking middle class to rising pollution and diminished civic engagement—and she shows how a growing number of communities and independent businesses are fighting back.”

I know my eyes were opened wide after reading Mitchell’s account. The Oregonian report gets to the heart of the matter in a quote from a long-time Music Millennium customer: “You hate to lose somebody like Music Millennium because it’s got so much character. You don’t find that anymore.”

July 12th, 2007

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