When small businesses close, shoppers lose a choice

When small businesses close, shoppers lose a choice

THE ISSUE: The closure of Carl’s IGA is another step in the ever-changing landscape of Macoupin County’s businesses. 

OUR VIEW: Consumers drive the direction of small-town commerce. 

Word got out recently that a long-standing Carlinville business will soon close its doors. The loss of Carl’s IGA will certainly be impactful. No more smiling cashiers. No more knowledgeable workers stocking the shelves. No more daily lunch specials. It’s a real loss. An honest-to-God end of an era. 

For 50 years, the Brockmeier family have been leaders in the community by not only providing quality goods and service, but by supporting the full spectrum of groups and organizations. Carl’s IGA became one of the anchors around which the rest of Carlinville revolved.

What’s great about Carl’s is it’s a place people can count on. If they didn’t have an item, they’d order it for you. It’s located in a place that’s within walking distance for a lot of people. Many of Carl’s employees have been there for a long time, some decades. Their faces are familiar to you and yours is familiar to them. Everyone at Carl’s knows your name and vice versa.

When a small-town business closes, people automatically assume it’s always because business had dropped off. We choose to view the decision to close Carl’s as more bittersweet – a well-deserved retirement. For three generations, the Brockmeier family met the needs of the community, which is no small task. For sure, they deserve congratulations for a job well done.

Realistically though, the closure means another empty building, fewer jobs in town and less choice for consumers.

It’s ironic, really. Logically, people tend to think they get more choices at the big box store with aisle after aisle of products from which to choose. Most people think such retailers provide all the choice in the world, except, of course, the option of another place to shop.

Do we really have a choice when there’s only one place in town to buy the Jell-O or Velveeta?

Carlinville is lucky in that there’s another independent meat counter in town with a limited selection of other grocery items. There’s also a discount store, which will come in handy, but lacks the selection of a full-service grocer.

Much of what makes our small towns appealing is the businesses in them. There was a time when small towns didn’t revolve around a single grocery store, but were serviced by several small stores serving various neighborhoods. As people became more mobile, competition got tough until the small stores closed and bigger stores were opened.

Well, the closing of Carl’s is another example of this phenomenon, where the central, locally-owned store is being replaced by the giant box store that squats in a field on the edge of town. The fact is, commerce will continue to change, at least until it gets to a place consumers no longer tolerate. Even people who crack jokes and turn their nose up at those box stores tend to shop at them anyway.

Shoppers who remember the small, service-oriented merchants are getting older. It won’t be long until those giant stores on the edge of town will be all people remember. Even today, people in their 30s don’t remember the days when a walk around the squares in Carlinville or Virden, or a stroll down Macoupin Street in Gillespie or Main Street in Staunton, was all one had to do to find the necessities.

Most everyone in Macoupin County appreciates the charm of small-town living, but there’s nothing charming about business districts lined with empty store fronts. We are the key. Those of us who live here are responsible for making our communities what they will become. If we want our businesses to stick around, we must support them with more than lip service.