Brick-and-mortar retail: The backbone of our communities

Aerial view (circa 1956) of the land where the Westgate Village Shopping Center is located today.

My company, Abbell Associates, is proud of the involvement it has had in communities across the country for more than 70 years.  A good example of this dedicated involvement is Westgate Village Shopping Center, in Toledo, Ohio.  My Grandfather first developed a shopping center on the site more than 50 years ago and it has been an integral part of the Toledo community ever since.

When we first acquired the land for Westgate Village, we knew we had an opportunity to provide the residents of Toledo with a state of the art (for 1956) shopping center. As the retail landscape and community needs changed over the decades, the original Westgate slowly became obsolete.  Again, we worked to provide the residents of Toledo with a state of the art (for 2006) shopping center by bringing in a 155,000 square foot Costco and 90,000 square feet of adjacent retail space that is now 100% leased. As a result, Westgate Villageis able to continue to play a key role in Toledo’s economy and local flavor, drawing customers from over 80 miles away.

The truth is Westgate Village isn’t just a place where people shop—it is part of the social and economic fabric of the surrounding community.  This center, like other shopping centers located around the country, provides a place for friends to grab a bite to eat or a mother and daughter to get their hair styled together.  Shopping centers also provide jobs in the community and generate sales, property and income taxes that fund essential services on which we all rely.

Americans may not be fully aware of the many important contributions brick-and-mortar retailers make toward the success of local economies—contributions online retailers cannot match. Estimates show that traditional retailers hire four employees for every $1 million in incremental sales, while online retailers only add one employee for the same amount.  Furthermore, when you spend $1 at an independent retailer, an average of 68 cents stays in the community.  Compare that to a dollar spent with an online retailer where nothing stays in the community.

From these numbers, it is clear to see that brick-and-mortar stores are a necessary part of any city’s economy. However, community-based retailers are being threatened by our current sales tax structure.  As the system stands now, online retailers do not have to charge sales tax at the point of sale, while brick-and-mortar stores do.  This means customers take their business online instead of to their local store because prices appear cheaper online.  The government should not favor one group of retailers over another.  We should all have the opportunity to compete fairly in the retail marketplace, and that cannot happen until Congress fixes this sales tax problem.

When local businesses disappear, communities are stripped of their energy and livelihood.  Healthy retail spaces, however, support all aspects of what people consider when they talk about quality of life: vibrant and dynamic places to live and do business.  I encourage Congress to take action that will provide a level playing field for our local retailers and allow our communities to thrive.

Liz Holland is CEO of Abbell Credit Corporation and Abbell Associates, a 70-year old family real estate acquisition, development and management company with an approximately 2 million square foot portfolio comprised of shopping center, office and enclosed mall properties.  Liz is responsible for overseeing all business and legal matters, including development, financing, leasing, capital improvements, and investor and tenant relations. 

Liz is the third generation of her family to run Abbell Credit Corporation and Abbell Associates.

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