Editorial – Merchants need your support

Published 7:01 pm Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Once or twice a year in this space, we remind our readers of the importance of supporting locally owned businesses.

As important as the topic is, there’s some risk in repetition, as the message is diluted by its frequency. But for Downtown Smithfield merchants and those along Church Street on the other side of the Cypress Creek Bridge, this call to action is urgent.

The bridge’s closure in one direction — and, periodically, both — has severely impacted merchants’ sales already, and we’re only three months into a project that will last 18 months or more. In this age of getting anywhere fast, motorists have little tolerance for inconvenience. And being able to cross the bridge in only one direction, or this week not at all during business hours, apparently is an inconvenience that many are unwilling to accept.

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We commend the Smithfield-Isle of Wight Tourism office for a campaign that implores locals and visitors alike to be undeterred and shop with local merchants now more than ever.

“If You Love Our Downtown, Keep Coming Around” is the clever message donning signs around town, accompanied by a map of detours and an invitation to visit the Welcome Center on Main Street if visitors have questions.

If the message sounds urgent, it is. Most independent retailers and restaurants operate on a very thin profit margin even in the best of times. Selling their product or service is largely a labor of love, not a quest to get rich.

Every business has its limit of how much hardship it can endure before the owner calls it quits, and the year-plus bridge closure will surely test that limit for many.  

We are unapologetic advocates of our Smithfield businesses, which are the backbone of the local economy.

There are many good reasons to support them. Hometown merchants take a personal interest in their shoppers, because they know most of them. They see them at church, at sporting events, at social functions and all around town. They treat their customers like friends, not just another warm body with a fat wallet.

Supporting local merchants is good for our community. Their property taxes help pay for police and fire protection, street improvements and the like. When you buy locally, you also help create and preserve jobs for your friends and neighbors.

Plus, local merchants give back to the community. They are generous in their support of school

and charitable fundraisers, Chamber of Commerce activities, youth sports, the arts and just

about any other good project. We ought to pay them back with our shopping loyalty.

In addition to the temporary crisis caused by the bridge closure, retailers wage a constant uphill battle against stay-at-home shopping, especially e-commerce behemoth Amazon. We get the convenience, but the internet experience is impersonal and, frankly, just not as much fun as walking into a Smithfield shop. 

If our hometown merchants were to dry up tomorrow, it would immeasurably lower the quality of

life in this community. Let’s all do our part to help them prosper.