As Ann Arbor residents say good-bye to longtime Ann Arbor businesses such as Decker Drugs, Ethnic Creation, Shiva Moon, Lure and Boss Guitar, they will be saying good-bye to independent mom-and-pop-type businesses and good-bye to diversity and originality.

On April 29, one of campus’s two drug stores, Decker Drugs, closed its doors as a result of the steadily increasing Ann Arbor rent rates, leaving students with only one campus pharmacy. Ethnic Creations is soon to follow as it wraps up sales and prepares to move to its new location in the Westgate shopping center on Old West Side. The recent departure of so many local businesses this year has left students and residents alike to wonder who is next and for how much longer Ann Arbor can maintain its unique and bohemian motif.

Over the past few years, the streets of Ann Arbor have begun to shift from a hub of independent, novelty stores with local flare to a commercialized network of franchises and chain stores. While commercially operated stores may be easier on the average student’s wallet, many students overlook the importance of supporting local businesses.

The effort to maintain a local identity in downtown Ann Arbor has been a struggle for quite some time. Ten years ago, Ann Arbor had a diverse selection of record stores, department stores, among others. Then, in 1999, Ann Arbor began to lose its special atmosphere with the loss of Schoolkids Indie Records and Campus Bike and Toys.

State Street has been metamorphosizing into a row of franchised bagel and coffee shops, yet hidden away, are the independent stores that supply downtown Ann Arbor with a flare unmatched by other cities of its size. Local stores planted the seeds of Ann Arbor, and it is because of these local businesses that the downtown has grown into something beyond a consumer haven; it gained its edge over other cities by developing a rich cultural experience.

The independently owned stores continue to make the city attractive because residents cannot find similar stores anywhere else. Independent stores are also dedicated to the city, involved in its improvement and development. They are often the first to participate in and help fund local meta. They also support University club teams and organizations.

Furthermore, quality customer service is far superior at these institutions, as many local proprietors take the time to get to know their regular customers. The independent owners give themselves wholly to their businesses, as well as their city. Rod’s Diner, for example, would not have the same ambience without the pictures of their patrons on the walls.

Yet, one by one, these stores are disappearing. The closures cannot be blamed on just one factor, but a combination of many, including rent increases, poor economic situations, downtown commercial competition along with commercial stores that are also beginning to spring up on the outskirts of the downtown area, drawing in customers with low prices and more selection. The continual development of such circumstances will eventually diminish the number of options available to consumers. If local stores continue to vanish from the streets of Ann Arbor, consumers will be forced to turn toward chain stores for all of their needs.

The local government, students and residents must make an effort to keep these independent shops open. It is time the government allocated resources and worked with proprietors in order to aid these local businesses. It is time for students and residents to consider shopping at more independently owned stores. For when these independent shops go, so do novelty, diversity and familiarity. In a sense, so does Ann Arbor.

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