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Support the merchants who support your community

By Andy Ellen

N.C. Retail Merchants

Hurricane Matthew hit North Carolina harder than anyone could have imagined. Millions of North Carolinians were affected either by wind damage, power outages or flooding.

While none of us ever want any disaster to occur, fortunately, when they do happen, they seem to bring out the best in people.

Maybe we get to know our neighbor better by helping them remove a tree off their roof; maybe we appreciate our power utility a little more as we watch them bring in crews from other states and work around the clock to restore power and normalcy; maybe we thank our insurance company that writes the claims check for that hole in the roof.

One industry whose service we hope you will recognize in these tough times is North Carolina’s largest private employer — the retail industry — which employs one out of every four North Carolinians.

In addition to donating millions of dollars of product, countless retailers worked with the State Division of Emergency Management to get their stores back up and running to serve their affected communities.  This allowed the state to shift resources to other affected areas.

Retailers were there to help their communities, whether it was a grocery store handing out bottled water and ice in their store parking lots, a mass retailer donating underwear and socks to shelters where people lost everything, a furniture retailer loaning an 18-wheeler to store supplies or a pharmacy creating a temporary pharmacy in the parking lot so senior citizens could get their necessary medicine.

North Carolina’s retailers went the extra mile to get supplies such as food, water, medicine, gasoline, plywood, generators, ice etc. from their distribution centers to their stores in the hardest- hit areas despite numerous road closures and significant detours.

One independent grocery store owner in Princeville told of their store manager who lost everything she owned for a second time but showed up to work and take care of store customers because she knew the struggles they were facing.

When Kinston, Lumberton, Goldsboro, Princeville and others needed help, they turned to their local retailers that are always there to help their communities. These are the brick-and-mortar stores, both independent and chain, who are ingrained in every community across North Carolina. They employ our neighbors, pay property taxes, collect the sales taxes that fund our roads and schools, sponsor the Little League team, high school band and school spirit night, and they packed sandbags as they waited for the Neuse River to crest in Kinston.

Meanwhile, where were the online competitors to your local retailers? Were Overstock, eBay, NewEgg, etc. packing sandbags or donating bottled water, socks or ice etc.? No. Yet, these are the same companies that take advantage of a 7 percent sales tax loophole that is killing brick-and-mortar businesses and that Congress needs to fix. These companies don’t collect sales tax, but they transport their boxes of merchandise on our roads and send those boxes to our landfills that are paid for by the sales tax local retailers must collect.

When did you ever see the local Little League Team with Overstock.com emblazoned across their jersey or NewEgg as a member of the High School Booster Club?

As we head into the holiday season, with Black Friday and Cyber Monday around the corner, please consider making a donation to an affected community or sponsoring a family that lost everything. And when you think about opening up that laptop to order a gift or even your laundry or dish detergent, close it and go to your local store to buy it instead.

Support those businesses that support what you care about in your community — your schools, your youth organizations, your Food Banks, and employing your neighbors — and ensure that, if a disaster hits where you live, they will still be there to help.

Andy Ellen is president and general counsel for the North Carolina Retail Merchants Association.

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