Josh Bergeron: Now more than ever, support local businesses

Published 12:01 am Sunday, June 21, 2020

It’s not everyday that people and businesses ask to be added to a boycott list, but that’s exactly what happened last week after the Salisbury City Council voted to move “Fame.”

The monument has long been a flashpoint, particularly when issues of race arise in national, state or local news. Decades ago, there were questions about whether it was a traffic hazard. More recently, it has been the site of shots fired in the air near peaceful protesters and not far from where police used riot gear and tear gas to disperse crowds.

It’s understandable how recent events renewed safety concerns. 

The decision last week, though, drew anonymous individuals to create a Facebook page that seeks to “bankrupt” the city of Salisbury. The page only had a couple handfuls of “likes” when one of its first posts began to spread, apparently reaching more than 25,000 people. But the backlash to the backlash was more robust than the initial effort. 

The boycott list went bankrupt.

Mikey Wetzel — owner of one of the most popular businesses in downtown, Go Burrito — was among those asking to be added to the list, saying he supports “my friends and employees and customers and neighbors who see the statue as a reminder of oppression.”

Bottle & Can, a downtown beer bar that also sells bottles and cans of beer for consumption at home, asked to be added to the list, too.

While appearing on the list, Lee Menius, of Wild Turkey Farms, said his business hadn’t previously taken any formal stand.

“Since you insist, we’ll stand by our friends and neighbors and support Salisbury’s decision to move ‘Fame,’ ” Menius said. “Thanks for including us in such a prestigious line up of great businesses.”

Owners of downtown bar The Fish Bowl thanked the creators for the advertisement.

Alissa Redmond, who owns bookstore South Main Book Company, said the day of the page’s creation was the most profitable in her history of ownership.

Strangely, the local Carolina Panthers fan club even landed on the list. There were businesses outside of the city of Salisbury, too.

For people upset about the vote to remove “Fame,” taking it out on neighbors, acquaintances and, perhaps, friends is not the way to protest. Many local businesses are already struggling or just getting back on their feet after shutdowns associated with COVID-19. Online shopping options mean that downtown streets look much different than they did even a decade ago. Local governments are already planning for decreases in sales tax revenue because of COVID-19, which could result in service reductions. 

Meanwhile, it’s not clear the businesses listed actually had previously taken a stance on the removal of “Fame.” Are the criteria for determining the list someone’s assumptions or actual data?

With so many people trying to make Salisbury a better place to live, creators of the page that aims to “bankrupt Salisbury,” which has been joined by an online petition, should consider what happens if they are successful. Success means the largest city in the county and the center of commerce will be a worse place to live, whether that’s through higher tax rates to maintain the same services or fewer businesses. 

The anonymous individual(s)  are also sending the confusing message that “we will not let our town be destroyed” as they advocate for people to “bankrupt Salisbury.” 

There’s long been an anti-Salisbury sentiment in Rowan County, but “bankrupting” the city hardly seems like an appropriate response to a decision to move a statue to another location. It’s a move, by the way, on which owners of the statue and the city appear to be close to agreeing to terms.

Sure, people who disagree with a business owner’s stance on an issue can do what they like with their dollars. But it’s simultaneously critical to realize that now, more than ever, it’s important to support locally owned businesses.

Otherwise, they might be few and far between on the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Josh Bergeron is editor of the Salisbury Post.