I sat in on an interesting county commission meeting Thursday, where the discussion centered on retail sales taxes. Turns out, we might be entering a new era of lower sales tax revenues due to on-line shopping. Who would have guessed that the decision to buy grandma a down comforter on the internet would translate into less asphalt chip-and-seal treatment on Phelps County Roads?

(This opinion of the managing editor is not the opinion of The Rolla Daily News)

I sat in on an interesting county commission meeting Thursday, where the discussion centered on retail sales taxes. Turns out, we might be entering a new era of lower sales tax revenues due to on-line shopping. Who would have guessed that the decision to buy grandma a down comforter on the internet would translate into less asphalt chip-and-seal treatment on Phelps County Roads? The commissioners are starting to rightfully squirm in their seats with the numbers County Treasurer Carol Green has been bringing them. While the jury is still out on the reason sales tax revenues appear to be lower following robust increases the last three years, no one doubts the collective voracity of the American consumer or the cultural changes brought about by the internet.

It is well-known by retailers (and shoppers) that internet retailers that can provide unprecedented choice, low prices and free shipping have been tough competition for brick and mortar stores. Rural  and small town shoppers with internet access have discovered how fun it is to while away the hours shopping for anything they can dream of, reading customer reviews before purchase and ordering with one-click shopping, only to have it arrive within 48 hours. You might even have benefitted with free shipping. Bottom line: everyone loves a deal and the internet provides it. Or should I say Amazon provides it?

To get an idea of what we’re dealing with, the Institute for Local Self Reliance (ILSR) published a white paper last year that was picked up by all the business journals and various news media. In writing for The Nation, Michelle Chen said, “Retail marketing is becoming both hyper-personalized for consumption and depersonalized for the merchant.” “According to Stacy Mitchell, a co-author of the ILSR study, Amazon’s retail hegemony is about not just market share, but also about social control, and not even Walmart ever achieved this level of cultural dominance.”

Here’s a few more insights gleaned from the ILSR study:
* Amazon has eliminated about 149,000 more jobs in retail than it has created in its warehouses
* In Illinois, about $1.5 million in Amazon sales employed one worker, compared to seven brick-and-mortar jobs for the same volume of sales at a conventional store.
* By the end of 2015 (the report came out in 2016), the company displaced enough sales to cause 135 million square feet of retail vacancies.

A few gems gleaned from writer Ben Schiller, in a Fast Company magazine article “Is Amazon Killing Jobs and Destroying Communities?”
* The Seattle company captures nearly half of all dollars spent online
* Half of all American households are Prime (perks for an annual fee) members
* Half of all shopping searches originate at Amazon.com

The intent is not to bash Amazon—a beautiful art book “Lofts 2” sits on my night table, delivered from Amazon and bought for pennies on the dollar. But I do feel it is important to open up some eyes to the very real home-town implications of shopping choice.

The opening of the holiday shopping season in downtown Rolla and the precursor to Small Business Saturday will be celebrated with a mayoral proclamation on Pine Street, Tuesday, November 21 at 10 a.m.. It would be nice for those Phelps County residents that can get away, to attend the proclamation reading and support our small business retailers. They know that to survive, they need to know their products and their customers and will go out of their way to make holiday shopping as pleasurable as possible, which admittedly, can be stressful. Make a day of it and go see a movie, go to a restaurant, buy a specialty coffee or pizza. You are not only keeping the downtown business district intact and thriving, but helping to keep the roads paved in Rolla and Phelps County. That’s a present worth giving on anybody’s list.