This past Saturday, I was in Kingstree running a few errands and noted how quiet it was downtown. Being a rainy day after New Year’s it appeared most people had hit the sales earlier and were just enjoying a quiet day at home. While witnessing the lack of shoppers downtown and the darkened Beehive, I was reminded of the many comments from local residents comparing Kingstree today to Kingstree of the 1950’s. The blame for less downtown activity usually was toward local government, businesses, or fewer people shopping, but the simple fact is that things change.
As a strong supporter of the chamber and the Main Street Program please indulge me as I share some thoughts concerning the transformation of American Shopping and how it has affected the country and Kingstree. According to history, department stores date back to the 1800’s and were primarily independent and locally owned in the towns and cities where they were located. By contrast a single company now may own 20 or more stores in one city center or mall.
The power of corporations has made major differences in shopping trends over the past 50 years. In 1890 Richard Sears marketed home shopping to provide goods and products for farmers who did not have access to certain items in rural locations. Sears became a common family name and older folks remember spending hours looking through the Sears Catalogs at the beautiful clothes and furniture. And of course, everyone waited for the popular Christmas Catalog with toys and games galore. It’s ironic that Sears is now closing stores to some extent, because of todays “home shopping.”
In 1958 the first credit card was introduced, and it made a great impact on the middle class and its purchasing power. Historically families had store credit in local towns to purchase goods all during the year. But with the introduction of the credit card, consumers could shop anywhere at any time charging their purchases regardless of knowing the merchant. Around 1962 Walmart came into being as a discount store and later transformed into a major shopping location. With Walmart and the creation of big box stores, mom and pop merchants began to struggle and close. One article noted that when Walmart came to town, up to 14 stores could close within a few years. Now a trend is in place where the Dollar Generals of the world are having negative effects on Walmart. In the 1980s the mall culture began, and everyone flocked to larger towns and cities to “go to the mall” for the best shopping experiences. Besides hurting small towns, the downtown areas in cities began to decline as shoppers chose mall shopping with new stores and abundant parking over the old downtown locations. Today, we see malls closing and a downtown revival as citizens promote shop local and community.
Change continued through the years with computers, electronic cash registers, online shopping, and other forms of technology. With the creation of the Internet, Amazon was born, E-Bay became popular, and American shopping was forever changed. Consumers too have adjusted with the times and are now Internet savvy and know how and where to get the best buys. In fact, I understand some parents block their computers so a four-year- old child cannot make purchase online. Now it’s understandable how the evolution of shopping has changed the way small towns all over America do business and survive. Well it’s 2020 and things continue to change. With the introduction of the branding and plan for Kingstree, we now have an opportunity to make good changes in our community. According to my friend William Freeman with Main Street the following are ideas for changes that could make Kingstree even better than it was in 1950.
First, shop local any time you can. Shopping local supports your friendly merchants and your town. Next, Get involved with this community. Join the chamber, support Main Street, go to council meetings, become an active part of Williamsburg County. Third, think creatively. When you are downtown, observe what is there and imagine what Kingstree could become.
Downtown belongs to everyone. And then, share the news, share events, and good things happening. Become an ambassador for Kingstree. Finally, be present and be vocal. Attend meetings and share your thoughts on how to make life better for our community. It’s 2020, things change, let’s make this change positive.