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Small Retailers Need Support Now More than Ever

November 17, 2018

By Jon Hurst

Special to Digital First Media

The year was 1918, and it’s best remembered around these parts as the last time the Red Sox won the World Series until the curse-breaking “Idiots” did it a decade and a half ago.

But the Old Towne Team becoming a dynamic title-winning powerhouse we just witnessed again this fall isn’t the only transformation we’ve seen in the last 100 years.

Through multiple recessions, one Great Depression and the rise of the Internet, so, too, our economy has transformed.

A constant through it all have been our retail businesses, whose contributions we celebrate this year as the Retailers Association of Massachusetts (RAM) commemorates its centennial anniversary.

Locally owned retail businesses are a vital part of communities across the Commonwealth. They support local charities and civic celebrations, provide jobs and are an important source of local and state tax revenue, and give character and vitality to our downtowns and Main Streets.

A year after RAM opened its doors in 1918, Isadore “I.J.” Michelson and his cousin, B. Aronson opened theirs -- a shoe repair shop in Lexington Center, which was then mostly farmland. Nearly a century later, the third and fourth generation of Michelsons operate two Michelson’s Shoes stores, run a full service online business and serve countless loyal customers, some of whom visit them from thousands of miles away.

And they continue to support the community where it all began. Whether it’s helping local businesses band together in forming the Lexington Retailers Association, or sponsoring the town’s trick-or-treating Halloween Week that showcases 90 local businesses, Michelson’s Shoes is an important force for good in their community.

Michelson’s is just one of many, many Massachusetts retailers that have not only survived through challenging economic times, but also thrived, doing its part to help Massachusetts become a vibrant, globally recognized economic powerhouse.

Of course, it hasn’t been easy. Retail businesses have always survived on small margins, and as our economy has changed, so too have consumer needs and spending habits. Whether it’s the rise of mobile commerce or tax-free competition across state lines in New Hampshire, retailers across Massachusetts face new and evolving threats year-in and year-out.

Today more than ever, the challenge for retailers in Massachusetts has never been greater. A stream of costly mandates passed into law on Beacon Hill has driven up operating costs and is jeopardizing the stability of many of our small businesses.

This past legislative session saw a coalition of union groups advance two ballot initiatives: a $15 minimum wage and paid family and medical leave. These came on the heels of previously sponsored ballot initiatives for another minimum wage increase, mandated paid sick leave, and a 4 percent income tax surcharge for those earning a million dollars or more, that was ruled unconstitutional by the state’s Supreme Judicial Court.

RAM, however, had sponsored our own initiative that would roll back the state sales tax to 2009 levels and establish a permanent sales tax holiday. After a negotiation, a “Grand Bargain” was reached resulting in all three of the ballot questions being withdrawn. Moving forward, this may be a leverage strategy that the business community may need to replicate if costly mandates -- that can’t be passed through the normal legislative process -- are pursued via ballot initiatives.

In many ways, our 100th year has been a perfect example of how our advocacy on behalf of small businesses is important to all of us - fighting for balanced solutions and predictable costs that businesses need for our communities to adapt and remain strong.

For a century, all our members have wanted is a level playing field. We all know change is here to stay -- and are prepared to adapt to those changes as we have for decades. And as we look ahead to the next 100 years, we hope our policymakers on Beacon Hill don’t forget the vital role our small businesses and retail community play in our cities and towns -- or the benefits we all reap when we support them.

John Hurst is president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts.

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