Our view: Buying local isn't as easy as it used to be ...

September 10, 2013 10:08:33 AM



As Waters Truck and Tractor celebrated its 75th anniversary last month, reports that another long-time family-owned Columbus business was in the process of being sold had begun to circulate. 


Monday, Sanders Oil, which was founded in 1931 and operated by the Sanders family ever since, was officially sold to Midstates Petroleum Co. The Vernon, Ala.-based company will take over all 14 of SOCO's locations, along with assuming its commercial contracts. 


Customers aren't likely to notice much of a change, but in some respects the sale of SOCO reflects a trend that has been growing for some time now. 


In the 1930s, when Ray Waters Sr. and his brother, Earl, began Waters Bros., and William David Sanders and William Lee Sanders, who went by "Bill Lee," began Sanders Oil, family-owned businesses dominated the landscape.  


Today, however, fewer and fewer of those old family-owned businesses remain. Over the years, the percentage of corporate-run businesses has grown steadily. You see this most often in businesses such as hospitals -- Lowndes County sold its hospital to the Baptists chain 12 years ago and there are rumblings that Okitbbeha County may soon follow suit -- and grocery stores. In Columbus, Sunflower Food Store remains the lone holdout as a family-owned business since it opened in 1962 -- and large-scale retail, where "big box" companies such as Walmart and Target dominate the landscape. 


Granted, this trend of corporate-owned businesses with headquarters in big cities far from the communities they serve will never have a complete monopoly. 


That is a good thing, too. Locally-owned businesses are the lifeblood of any community. Not only do locally-owned businesses carry the economy, they also are invested in communities in ways big corporations ­-- for whom the bottom line is always the dominant priority -- can never be. 


The local shop owner or business person must certainly attend to the bottom line, of course, but he or she is also committed to the community in far more personal ways. The corporate officials may "care" about a community's schools, public safety and other quality-of-life issues to the degree they impact sales, but the local business owners care at a much deeper level. They live here, send their children to school here and have a personal interest in the health, happiness and prosperity of the community. 


In recent years, there has been a growing trend that emphasizes "buying local," especially when it comes to food. But that thinking should not be limited to fruits and vegetables.  


Whether it's cars or clothing or a hundred other goods and services, patronizing locally-owned businesses stimulates the local economy and strengthens community in a way that corporate entities cannot duplicate. 


When you buy local, profits are not heading off to some far-off place. The profits are staying here, which means that money is far more likely to continue circulating here.  


There is also another benefit to consumers. When you buy locally, you are not being transferred to some phone bank in some far-flung corner of the earth when you have a question or a problem with your purchase. If you have ever been forced to navigate the labyrinth of the modern corporate customer service world, you are well aware of how nice it is to make a local phone call or even drop by the store to get a problem solved. 


When the option is available, buying locally is almost always a preference. 


And, of course, as a family-owned business since 1922, The Dispatch has a sentimental attachment to all of its fellow "old-timers."  


We are sorry to see them go.