Business Groups, Vermont Politicians Urge Support of Small Retailers During Holidays

Rep. Peter Welch said Vermont retailers are critical to the vitality of downtown districts.

With this week's unofficial kickoff of the holiday shopping season, Vermont business groups and politicians urged shoppers to remember small retailers during their gift-buying trips.

"Without solid retail in our downtown district, we don't have a downtown district," said Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., lending his voice to a plea to support independent retailers.

Box store retailers and national mall chains may have the splashiest Black Friday offerings and enticing deals, but they're also more likely to ship their profits out of state, observed Andrea Cohen of the group Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility.

"When you spend your dollars locally, the multiplier effect is very significant for locally-owned businesses," Cohen said, adding that local retailers are also likely to support important local entities like little league teams and charity auctions.

Danforth Pewter, which has several retail operations around Vermont, including on Burlington's Church Street Marketplace, expressed its appreciation to shoppers who visit small businesses for their gift-buying.

"We're very dependent on the next six weeks," Danforth CEO Bram Kleppner said. "The local customers we have who come in year after year are really what allowed us to survive the recession."

Kleppner told New England Cable News purchasing from Danforth not only supports about 55 workers at the company, but also the Vermont accounting firm, legal firm, printers, contractors, woodworkers, and other small businesses that Danforth in turn supports.

Separately, many bricks-and-mortar retailers are calling on members of Congress to revisit the Marketplace Fairness Act. It was a proposal that would allow state governments to collect taxes on purchases made online from out-of-state retailers.

"It's really important to our local communities across the country," Rep. Welch said of the proposal.

Welch argues mom-and-pop stores could better compete with big Internet sellers if taxes were equal. However, some conservative groups oppose the idea, calling it just one more charge on tax-weary Americans.

"We really have to work together," Welch said of Congress, noting he believes Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, is blocking the bill's arrival on the House floor. "And the only way you work together is you put some bills on the floor; let Democrats and Republicans negotiate their differences."

Welch said most people right now are supposed to be charging themselves state fees on online purchases through use rules and remitting payments to the state. He acknowledged it's pretty rare for a consumer to do that.

This Friday, the Church Street Marketplace is hosting a parade with Santa Claus and seasonal entertainment starting at noon. The Christmas tree lighting celebration begins at 5:30 p.m., with the lighting itself taking place just after 6:00, the Marketplace Commission said.

Several downtown Burlington businesses will be offering incentives and special events as part of the national Small Business Saturday promotion, the Church Street Marketplace Commission added.

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