Retail is alive and Well in Tucson

The other day, at 4:30 AM, I rose in my bed, swung my feet over the floor and stepped into two inches of water. Houston, we have a problem. Apparently the sound of cascading water was not my wife in the shower; rather, it was the sound of water from a broken pipe in the attic pouring through the bathroom exhaust vent.

Thus began along series of trips to the equipment rental store and the plumbing store. My first trip was to Erv’s Equipment Rental, a Tucson business with two locations. There I secured an industrial grade wet-vac with which I would remove the water from the house. I always feel good going to Erv’s. It’s not because I’m into industrial equipment, it’s because of an employee. The employee to whom I’m referring speaks very slowly, with a somewhat hollow voice. He does not fill out the forms, or operate the cash register, but he helps load the equipment and explain its operation. Because Erv’s hired him, he has a regular job to which he can go and help people just like the rest of us. I like Erv’s.

With the water sucked into the yard, I was off to the plumbing store. It occurred to me that I had the choice of a number of retailers from the Big Box stores (boo, hiss), to the locally owned shops (trumpet fanfare).

I remembered the heap big controversy that arose when Home Depot made plans to set up shop in the El Con Mall. Many neighborhood activists went berserk. They warned that the character of midtown would be forever changed, there could never be enough parking, tractor trailers would roar through the neighborhoods, and there would be plagues of frogs and locusts. Of course, “The Depot” went in, parking was expanded, a huge wall was erected to protect the adjacent neighborhood, the neighborhood got a few access concessions, and everyone lived happily ever after – consumers in particular.

Well, how about the small hardware stores, do not the big boxes suck up all the business? No, they do not. The fact that many smaller stores, both local and chains, are still thriving proves the point. In fact, it could be argued that The Depot helps the smaller businesses. Look, long ago people predicted that HBO and VCR’s would destroy the movie theater business. Has that happened? No, quite the contrary, with more options and access to films, interest in them increased, and the movie market expanded. That expansion led to more theaters now than there were before.

Sure, the small stores cannot compete with the big boxes on price; but price is not the same as value. Smaller businesses tend to be better at customer service, technical advice, and have shorter waiting times at checkout.

Look, if a business owner does not want to step up to the plate and compete, he should probably sell his business, move to the rust belt, and join a union. That goes for the Big-Box as well as the Mom and Pop. It is a dynamic environment in which we live.

The result of all this dynamism is a multitude of choices for the Tucson consumer. For my plumbing needs, I ended up going to Plumber Supplies on Grant Road. O.K., I admit it, I prefer the smaller shops. For someone like me who does not know what he’s doing, they provide the best value, but if I needed a Makita six-inch disk grinder I would probably go to The Depot.

As long as businesses satisfy their customers, they will survive and prosper, and that is as it should be. As long as we remain free from the over regulation, unionization, and “fair trade” laws that plague many blue states, the people of Tucson will continue to have choices in a diverse marketplace.

Hey, “choice” and “diversity” are good, right?

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