• A Look at Malibu Businesses•
BY ANNE SOBLE
The first town hall on the Malibu retail environment was an important step toward clarifying the issues and dispelling some of the myths circulating in the effort to seek municipal oversight of local small businesses.
To hear small business owners stress that it is not as much high rents as the lack of local patronage that leads to closures affirmed what many have been saying. If people want local bricks-and-mortar stores, they have to shop in them regularly and understand that their higher costs may be reflected in their pricing and their space constraints can impact inventory.
However, one of the most important segments of the meeting was when business owners began to raise the issue of the overriding societal change that is irrevocably altering the dynamic of retail marketing in Malibu, in California, in the nation, and throughout the world.
It's not that there shouldn't be any concern about Malibuites leaving the community to go to big-box stores, but it seems certain that number is far surpassed by the number of local residents who shop online.
To hear a local business owner say that someone will come into a store, check out a style, and even try it on; then go home and, with a few clicks, "order it for 60 percent less," illustrates the impact of the Internet on Malibu retail establishments better than any abstract discussion of market forces.
Malibu really has little to fear from mega marts. They are not clamoring at the city's gates. Why should they? Most of them already have access to 90265 spending power at their outlets in adjacent communities, or online. Municipal legislation to curb them would be largely symbolic.
To some degree, the nostalgia associated with hometown businesses is a demographic one related to age, gender and culture. Sociologists have studied how suburban development isolated residents, Stores in shopping centers were where they could meet other people, or "hang out." Younger demographics now hang out someplace else—the Web.
Some futurists at think tanks and business schools foresee tremendous changes in shopping centers, as we now know them. Storefronts are expected to steadily decline in number, or consolidate into joint outlets, as retail marketing becomes increasingly digitized, and whatever is needed is as close as one's hand-held.
In the short term, the community can get behind a "Shop Malibu" campaign to support the current local business base. There have been several such campaigns in the past, many of them generating more advertising revenue than cash register receipts. Slogans are no substitute for spending.
In the long term, Malibu's community identity derives from family, friends, neighbors and the diverse citizenry who live here; and its sense of place is in the equally diverse lifestyles and public areas centered in the extraordinary natural wonders around them.
Just as the turmoil of the industrial revolution upended political, economic and social structures when it took place, the current technological revolution is dramatically altering traditional institutions in every facet of human activity.
And this revolution has only just begun.