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Evanston resident discusses impact of Amazon on small businesses

Matt+Cunningham+speaks+at+Bookends+and+Beginnings.+He+discussed+findings+from+his+study%2C+%E2%80%9CAmazon+and+Empty+Storefronts%2C%E2%80%9D+on+how+online+shopping+impacts+local+business.+
Matt Cunningham speaks at Bookends and Beginnings. He discussed findings from his study, “Amazon and Empty Storefronts,” on how online shopping impacts local business.

Matt Cunningham speaks at Bookends and Beginnings. He discussed findings from his study, “Amazon and Empty Storefronts,” on how online shopping impacts local business.

Lauren Duquette/Daily Senior Staffer

Lauren Duquette/Daily Senior Staffer

Matt Cunningham speaks at Bookends and Beginnings. He discussed findings from his study, “Amazon and Empty Storefronts,” on how online shopping impacts local business.

Isha Bhutada, Reporter

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Evanston resident Matt Cunningham examined how the expansion of online-retailer Amazon could impact the future of brick-and-mortar stores in a discussion Tuesday night.

In the event hosted by local bookstore Bookends and Beginnings, 1712 Sherman Ave., in partnership with Downtown Evanston, Cunningham led a discussion about how downtown regions have been impacted by Amazon’s growing presence. His study, titled “Amazon and Empty Storefronts,” has made national news since it was published in January.

“Amazon is taking over and replacing a lot of things that used to be in our communities and neighborhoods,” Cunningham said.

Co-sponsored by the American Booksellers Association and Cunningham’s research firm Civic Economics, the study estimates the fiscal and land-use impacts of Amazon for every state in the nation. As a co-author of the study, Cunningham approximates that Amazon sales produced a net loss of both 135,973 retail jobs nationwide and $1 billion in revenue to state and local governments.

Cunningham’s study provides data on how property taxes, employment opportunities and social engagement have been jeopardized by the growth of online retailers.

“The American Booksellers Association has obviously been concerned for a long time on what the effects of Amazon were going to be on brick-and-mortar bookstores, but the issue is that there hasn’t been data,” Bookends and Beginnings co-owner Nina Barrett (Medill ‘87) said.

The emergence of Cunningham’s new data shows that local bookstores are one of the many retailers hurt by the growth of Amazon. Cunningham said Amazon sold $5.6 billion worth of books in 2014, a value that could financially support 3,600 bookstores in that year.

Laura Guenther, the owner of Local Goods Chicago, a Chicago gift store, said although Amazon seemed big, she was not aware of its exponential growth.

“I’ve been struggling to have online sales … and I feel like that is what I’m missing as far as keeping my business alive because we just don’t get enough customers in the door,” Guenther said.   

Business owners at the event said many small retailers are turning to websites to match the convenience Amazon provides its customers. For example, Bookends and Beginnings allows its customers to order books via its website.

However, small business owners maintain that their businesses are important because they have the ability to create both unique experiences and a sense of community Amazon cannot replicate, Barrett said.

“What we are about is a place where you can discover stuff that is quirky, that is smart, stuff that everybody isn’t reading. … We’re counting on being eccentric and interesting,” she said. “We don’t want downtown Evanston to feel like a mall.”

Ultimately, Cunningham said, it is up to consumers to be more cautious about where and how they choose to purchase what they need.

“We are at the seeds of people realizing that maybe we should at least look at other places before we hit the buy button,” he told The Daily.

Email: ishabhutada2019@u.northwestern.edu

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