Archive for the ‘Oregon’ Category

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.”

Thursday, July 12th, 2007
Posted in Books, Business & Economics, Music, Oregon | No Comments »

How about a little more love for Oregon’s own

Two surveys featured by Forbes send mixed signals about Oregon and Oregonians. The magazine places Oregon at 28 in its Top States for Business, up from 31 a year ago. Forbes also reports on a study that ranks the Portland metropolitan region 6th among US metro areas in volunteer rates. So this says we’re a below average state for business, but our major urban area is well above average state for community involvement.

That sounds about right, on both accounts. I did some research earlier this year for an Oregon small business assessment I was writing, and found Oregon consistently ranking in the bottom third or half of all states for quality of business climate. You can find some silver linings here and there in the various studies, but overall our business reputation is not great across the country. Coincidentally, I’ve greatly increased my volunteer hours in the past year, after having sold my share of a business I co-founded. I have quickly come to appreciate what an involved group of citizens we have here in Portland.

I love that Portlanders care about this city and each other as much as they do. I just wish there were more being done here and across the state to lift the success rate of businesses that are started and owned by Oregonians. I am convinced business conditions would improve greatly in this state if we were to take better care of own. Among other things, that means putting an end to expenditures of valuable economic development time and dollars on recruiting businesses from out of state, halting tax incentives to corporations (especially retailers) owned outside of Oregon and investing vastly greater amounts of public dollars in higher education, entrepreneurial training and other programs that emphasize support for new and existing Oregon-owned businesses.

I’m not interested in being seen as the number 1 state for business. Most rankings, including Forbes, tip the scales dramatically in favor of state policies that promote the global traded sector. In this energy-constrained world, we need to find and champion local and regional trade at least as much as international trade. Even if we in Oregon were to thumb our collective nose at Forbes, we have much more we can and should do to build vibrant local economies based on healthy, independent and locally owned businesses.

Wednesday, July 11th, 2007
Posted in Business & Economics, Oregon | No Comments »

What’s that smell in the suburbs?

Somewhere southeast of Portland in Oregon City there are a few Mom & Pop store owners today who are feeling abandoned, all in the name of economic development. A new mall is being planned for development in the area, and the city manager told the Oregonian, “We’re going to do what needs to be done to make this happen.”

What he’s referring to is “The Rivers,” another one of those high-end “lifestyle” retail developments that are all the rage these days. The proposed cost: $160 million to $180 million. Likely tenants: Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, Best Buy, Staples, Dick’s Sporting Goods, among many other non-local chain retailers.

The proposed development is a joint venture between a Tualatin company and the California State Teachers Retirement System. You can bet the vast majority of the money is coming from the California teachers. So once again, it’s out-of-state developers using their vast resources to invest in another suburban mall stocked with out-of-state chain retailers. And once again local government is bending over backwards to make it possible for these out-of-state businesses to siphon local dollars out of the area’s economy, pledging “$25 million to $35 million to assist with roads, utilities and other site development costs.”

When do you suppose the last time Oregon City spent $25 million to $35 million to help ensure independent, locally owned stores in succeed? They’re the ones who keep their incomes flowing through the local economy, creating a multiplier effect that benefits all in the local community. And that’s just the economic gain from having a healthy local merchant sector. Instead non-Oregon investors/developers and retail giants will once again gladly pocket our community’s disposable income and ship it elsewhere – all with the active political and financial support of local municipal government!

The headline this morning inadvertently says it all, “Oregon City vision: Turn dump into mall.” Developers are looking to build “The River” on a former landfill. That’s fitting, because the whole thing stinks.

Thursday, July 5th, 2007
Posted in Business & Economics, Oregon | No Comments »