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Featured Article, Resource filed under Independent Business | Written by Olivia LaVecchia | No Comments | Updated on Apr 4, 2017

Local Governments Are Increasingly Buying from Amazon. Here’s Why They Need to Stop.

The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at https://ilsr.org/local-governments-are-increasingly-buying-from-amazon-heres-why-they-need-to-stop/

Download this article as a PDF that you can print and share with your local officials, and head to the end to see 5 things you can do right now.

Photo: Downtown Hamilton, Mont.

Downtown Hamilton, Mont. Jimmy Emerson/Flickr

When Shawn Wathen decided to see how much his county was spending on purchases from Amazon, he wasn’t sure what he would find.

Wathen co-owns an independent bookstore, Chapter One, in Hamilton, Mont., a 4,500-person town nestled in the Bitterroot Mountains an hour south of Missoula. Wathen has seen a lot of stores come and go from downtown Hamilton in recent years, but Chapter One has kept on, along with the local newspaper and the office supply store, the toy store and the drug store, that are the bookstore’s neighbors on the same block of Main Street.

Amazon doesn’t have a physical presence near the town — no warehouse for storing goods and packing boxes, no sortation center or delivery station or one of its new brick-and-mortar bookstores — or, in fact, anywhere in Montana, but Wathen’s been increasingly impacted by its growth in recent years. After reading the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s recent report on the company, and talking about it with the Hamilton Downtown Association, Wathen started wondering if his local officials were buying from Amazon for any county purchases. He got in touch with the Ravalli County treasurer to find out.

After some back-and-forth with the county, and teaming up with another business to pay the $120 records fee, Wathen got back a report. Between reams of paper and ink cartridges, a handful of books and miscellaneous items like picture frames, Ravalli County had spent $15,500 purchasing goods from Amazon in 2016. Residents in the county have worked to stop chain retail proliferation for years, including successful campaigns to block two separate Walmart developments, but meanwhile, Amazon had snuck in under their noses.

It felt “a little bit like betrayal,” says Wathen. Wathen’s been at Chapter One for 21 years, starting out as an employee and later buying the business. He and his co-owner work at the store full-time; they pay property taxes, serve on local associations, host author readings, and organize book clubs and literature seminars. Chapter One is a small business, but in 2016, the bookstore gave $8,000 in discounts and direct donations to organizations in the county, including three school districts.

Photo: Shawn Wathen at Chapter One Book Store in Hamilton, Mont.

Shawn Wathen at Chapter One Book Store in Hamilton, Mont. Photo courtesy Shawn Wathen.

Ravalli County’s spending with Amazon isn’t an outlier. In February, U.S. Communities, a purchasing cooperative that negotiates office and school supply contracts for more than 90,000 public agencies across the country, announced that it had awarded Amazon Business a multiyear contract for 10 different product categories, including office supplies, classroom and art supplies, musical instruments, audio visual and electronics, and scientific equipment and lab supplies. In coming months, the public agencies that are members of U.S. Communities will be deciding whether or not to sign onto the contract. These agencies include everyone from major city governments like Boston and Minneapolis, to school districts, townships, libraries, fire departments, and sewer districts. In its Request for Proposals, U.S. Communities estimated the overall value of the contract to be $500 million per year.

While U.S. Communities described the contract as “competitively solicited, evaluated, and awarded,” independent business owners quickly disagreed. “The way the U.S. Communities bid was written proves yet again how the system continues to be rigged against open and fair competition,” the National Office Products Alliance, the trade association for independent office supply dealers, described in a statement. “In order to bid on the U.S. Communities contract, a bidder had to bid on all nine categories,” which included not just office supplies, but also grocery, clothing, animal supplies, and more. “These requirements made it impossible for anyone other than Amazon to bid on this contract.” Continue reading

Featured Article, Resource filed under Independent Business | Written by Nick Stumo-Langer | No Comments | Updated on May 18, 2017

Tech Startup Allows Communities to Support Local Businesses – Episode 20 of the Building Local Power Podcast

The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at https://ilsr.org/tech-startup-local-businesses-episode-20-of-the-building-local-power-podcast/

This week in Building Local Power, we’re discussing independent businesses and the communities that support them. Host Christopher Mitchell and ILSR co-director and Community-Scaled Economies initiative director Stacy Mitchell interview Katrina Scotto di Carlo from Portland, Oregon. di Carlo is the co-founder of Supportland (now called Placemaker), which work to bolster independent businesses by offering new marketing and technological… Continue reading

Photo: Sen. Amy Klobuchar delivering a speech on antitrust.
Featured Article filed under Independent Business | Written by Olivia LaVecchia | No Comments | Updated on Apr 4, 2017

Anticompetitive Conditions Are Impacting Independent Businesses, Says Letter to Sen. Klobuchar

The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at https://ilsr.org/anticompetitive-conditions-are-impacting-independent-businesses-says-letter-to-sen-klobuchar/

In today’s highly concentrated markets, the ability of dominant companies to exclude and impede businesses from competing has become one of the most pressing issues facing independent businesses. On the heels of a recent speech about the need for more vigorous antitrust enforcement by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Advocates for Independent Business (AIB) has sent Sen. Klobuchar a letter commending her call for action and sharing information about the experiences of AIB’s member businesses. Continue reading

Photo: ILSR's Olivia LaVecchia speaking.
Featured Article, Resource filed under Independent Business | Written by Olivia LaVecchia | No Comments | Updated on May 9, 2017

Watch: How Cities Can Create a Built Environment Where Local Businesses Thrive

The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at https://ilsr.org/watch-how-cities-can-create-a-built-environment-where-local-businesses-thrive/

Cities are changing to become increasingly inhospitable to locally owned businesses. ILSR’s Olivia LaVecchia recently joined with policymakers and advocates at Hopeful Economics, a summit co-hosted by the City of Vancouver and Simon Fraser University, to explore the issue of rising commercial rents and a changing built environment. In this 20-minute talk, Olivia discusses what’s causing the problem, why it matters — and six policy strategies that cities are using to address it. Continue reading

Featured Article, Resource filed under Independent Business | Written by Nick Stumo-Langer | No Comments | Updated on Mar 9, 2017

America’s Major Market Power Problem – Episode 13 of the Building Local Power Podcast

The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at https://ilsr.org/market-power-problem-episode-13-of-the-building-local-power-podcast/

Welcome to episode thirteen of the Building Local Power podcast. For full transcript of the podcast, click here. In this episode, Christopher Mitchell, the director of ILSR’s Community Broadband Networks initiative, interviews Stacy Mitchell, co-director of the ILSR and director of the Community-Scaled Economies initiative. The two discuss the environment for small businesses in the… Continue reading