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First, the caveat: Nothing Butte shoppers did or didn’t do would have saved our Herberger’s store. In fact, Butte made the local store profitable, but that didn’t cut any ice when the entire chain went belly up.

But if we ever needed a reminder about why it’s important to shop local, we got one.

Because even though we couldn’t save Herberger’s, the small locally owned businesses in this town are absolutely vulnerable, and if it comes down to a choice between buying something locally or tapping a few keys and getting a package from Amazon, please be aware of the high stakes for Butte that are implicit in that decision.

Whatever we are looking to buy – from groceries to mortgages to trucks to a pair of boots – there’s an app for that. There’s also a local business, supporting local jobs, supporting other local businesses, for that.

It’s no secret that one hand washes the other in a town the size of Butte. So when we make a decision to buy out of town, that decision doesn’t just affect the one or two local businesses we could have patronized. It rattles around the entire local economy. The “multiplier effect” of money spent locally is clear. So’s the cumulative effect of the money that doesn’t stay here.

The convenience of shopping online is undeniable. Equally undeniable is what you lose – the personal interaction with employees or business owner; the chance to see, touch and feel whatever it is you’re buying before the purchase; and the knowledge that your purchase is helping to support the community you’re a part of, and may directly support the company you work for.

A disturbing trend in commerce is using a local store as a “showroom” to take a look at an item, even figure out a correct size, and then making the purchase online. That means the local merchant has not only lost a sale – they’ve lost the time and productivity involved in having sales people help someone make a decision about what to buy elsewhere.

These decisions aren’t easy. Sometimes it’s hard for local merchants to be competitive on price. But the online consumer also doesn’t have a local relationship to fall back on when a purchase goes sideways – when a counterfeit item is delivered from an unscrupulous sales source; when a dispute arises about what was sent and what shape it was in when it arrived; etc.

The loss of Herberger’s is going to make it all the easier to “give up” and make an online purchase. We urge you to think twice about that.

Yes, we’ve lost another major retail entity, and that hurts. A lot. And we applaud Butte-Silver Bow Chief Executive Dave Palmer’s desire and effort to recruit a replacement (a non-absentee mall owner who was engaged in our community would help too).

But for now, we need to focus on what we have in our small business community, and protect it.

Local jobs and local families’ lives are in the balance.


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