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Bowling for Business—KISS to Keep Biz on the Hill

To save the mountain, keep your busines on the hill.

(This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on December 4, 2011.)

As soon as winter weather blew into Lake Arrowhead, I started experiencing insomnia. For weeks, I tossed and turned, double- and triple-checked the thermostat and added blankets to our bed, all to no avail. I’m embarrassed to share what proved to be the simple solution to my sleeplessness—socks. That’s right…all it took to warm me up so I could drift off to sleep was to slip into a toasty pair of socks.

In Lake Arrowhead and the surrounding area, we are experiencing a chronic problem of another kind—the impending death of our mountain community. Over the past three years, we’ve all watched in horror as businesses of every variety have shuttered at an alarming rate. Vino 100 in the Village, Betty’s General Store in Blue Jay and Tony’s Mexican Restaurant in Cedar Glen are a few of the most recent casualties. The good news is that the solution is just as simple as warm socks on a cold night.

Do you, like me, enjoy the convenience of not having to drive down the 330 or the 18 every time you need to:

  • Pick up groceries?
  • Grab a bite to eat?
  • Buy necessities like underwear, dog food and medication?
  • Find last-minute gifts?
  • Work out?

Although Bowling for Business is usually written to entrepreneurs, let me depart from my usual format to speak directly to consumers. We can blame local vendors for limited inventory, high prices and inferior customer service until the cows come home. But if we don’t make a concerted effort to keep businesses open on the hill, eventually, we will lose the luxury of living in an active, beautiful mountain community. Lake Arrowhead will become a ghost town.

And we’re hardly alone. Small businesses and towns across the country are dropping like flies. But statistics are hard to pin down for several reasons:

  1. Definitions vary about what constitutes a small town. For purposes of this column, we will defer to The Huffington Post, which defines a small town as anyplace with a population of fewer than 50,000.
  2. Community leaders gamely hide facts for fear reality will sound the death knell. So figures are often fudged. For instance, administrators insist that 80% of The Lake Arrowhead Village is currently occupied. But one need only survey the local landscape to more accurately assess the situation. Creative displays and signs promising “another exciting store coming soon” belie the sobering reality that far more space is available than leased…not just in the Village but across the mountain entire.
  3. No central database exists for reporting closure of a business or small town. So, while towns and small businesses open with pomp and circumstance, they tend to die with a whimper.

When all is said and done, like the rest of the country, those of us who make this area our home are suffering the harsh realities of a down economy. Job loss is up. Housing prices are down. Discretionary spending is low. So how can we affect the future of Lake Arrowhead?

Spend money on the hill!

Now, admittedly, doing this is not always possible. For instance, I recently tried in vain to locate a hot holiday toy called the  vtech InnoTAB by shopping locally at Mr. G’s for Toys, Little Folks Bookshoppe and Radio Shack. But I struck out. When I asked one of the proprietors why I couldn’t even order the product, he explained that large companies like vtech require minimum orders of 25,000 units, which is why the toy is only sold at big box stores.

But, whenever possible, we should exercise our local options because buying local matters. In fact, Mickki Langsten, Executive Director of the Mile High Business Alliance in Denver, which has an active “Buy Local” program says,

“Each dollar spent at a locally-owned business re-circulates in a community six times more than a dollar spent at a non-local business.”

So, if you want to join a gym, check out Curves Lake Arrowhead. The owner, Candy Fairchild Krelnikov, understands the importance of investing in the lives of her members. In addition to supporting client weight-loss efforts, she organizes field trips and shares beauty secrets like tips about makeup and hairstyling products.

Further demonstrating her commitment to the local community, Candy is organizing an informal group called Women in Action, made up of business owners who wants to meet to informally discuss business best practices. The first meeting will be held at Hot Shots in Blue Jay, at 1 p.m. the first Thursday of every month beginning in January.

If a similar group exists for men, I’m not aware of it. But the Chamber of Commerce encourages entrepreneurs of both genders to take advantage of mixers, meetings and business events held throughout the year, including the mountain-wide economic summit held annually in Big Bear.

So, the next time you shop or go out to eat, consider the cost of driving down the hill…not just in gas and time, but in terms of the potential long-term affect your decision might have on our local economy. Enjoy the fact that, for now, at least, you can still buy socks without having to leave the mountain.

Until next time, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

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