After Maria Oliveira started her own business — Passport Vintage — in Chicago, she and her work partner wanted to expand the business by moving to a new city. They researched a variety of locations and chose Austin for the opportunities the local business scene provided.
Now, Austin’s unique local businesses face a big issue. Online shopping companies, such as Amazon and ASOS, continue to expand in a way that poses a threat to local stores. According to a BigCommerce study, 67 percent of millennials prefer online shopping, and Americans in metropolitan areas, such as Austin, are spending the most money online.
Advertising senior Jessica Mendez is one of these frequent online shoppers. She browses online around once a day while enjoying the convenience of not having to leave her apartment. She still recognizes the importance of local stores for what they bring to the community and tries to visit one around twice a month.
“I think the shopping community in Austin transcends beyond just buying clothes and other items, which appeals to me the most,” Mendez said. “I feel like, through store events, I have met a lot of creators and just really cool people.”
Oliveira, co-owner of local store Passport Vintage and the co-founder of Austin’s vintage market Laissez Fair, plays an active role in Austin’s vintage and local store scene. She has seen local businesses — such as her own — play a part in shaping Austin’s character.
Local businesses embody the character of the city that they’re in by bringing a variety of people in, whether they are students or entrepreneurs, according to Oliveira. They can connect people, such as Mendez, or offer a desirable environment for businesses that want to grow, such as Oliveira’s. Local businesses can build community, and Austin has benefited from this.
Despite this quality, online shopping has only become more popular, even in Austin. In Amazon’s case, this trend recently helped push the company toward a $1 trillion valuation, making Amazon only the second company behind Apple to do so.
Austin still stands among the list of potential cities for Amazon’s second headquarters. The importance of supporting local stores matters now more than ever as change continues to come to our city and threaten the value Austinites are proud of: being weird.
Nonetheless, keeping a local business alive can be challenging due to expenses. According to Oliveira, online shopping companies can absorb a lot of the costs that small businesses cannot, which poses a problem for local stores.
“Companies like Amazon, ASOS or Forever 21, they can afford — most of the time — to pay for shipping,” Oliveira said. “For a small business, we can’t afford the same service because we can’t pay $7 for shipping and lose out on that. So they really do affect the local space because it is so easy for (buyers) to be home and to return it at no cost.”
While UT students appreciate the convenience of online shopping, as Austinites we should all maintain and foster what makes our city different from everywhere else. Balancing what you buy online versus locally can make all the difference when it comes to preserving what Austin stands for and preserving an opportunity to play an active role in your community.
The first semester has begun. As you furnish and decorate your apartments for the upcoming semester, consider turning off your laptop, hopping off the couch and making the short journey to any one of Austin’s vintage, thrift or local stores. LO-FI Vintage, Monkies Vintage and Room Service are just a few options.
Students should take advantage of the resources that Austin offers. If we don’t, we will lose our access to local, weird stores run by unique, young entrepreneurs.
McWhorter is a journalism junior from San Francisco, CA. She is an associate editor.