SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

November 22, 2012

Column: Shop local

Kimberley Driscoll
The Salem News

---- — The end of Thanksgiving marks the beginning of three separate days of shopping for many people in the commonwealth with Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday.

As you peruse the array of circulars and advertisements sure to come your way, it’s definitely worthwhile to point out the stark contrast in benefits between Black Friday sales, Small Business Saturday sales and Cyber Monday sales. Local brick-and-mortar businesses participating in Black Friday and Small Business Saturday, including big-box retailers, are required to collect state sales tax, which helps pay for everything from roads and bridges to local services like schools, police and fire protection.

Not only do our local retailers collect sales tax revenues, they pay into the municipal property tax base and often contribute to community events and organizations that make the quality of life in our respective cities and towns so special. Our youth sports leagues, school fundraising activities and community beautification programs, to name only a few, all benefit greatly from contributions of time and resources provided by our local merchants.

Unfortunately, Cyber Monday sales help online-only businesses that do not have to collect the state sales tax and contribute little to the local economy. Your favorite “e-retailer” uses our roads and infrastructure to deliver goods to customers, but they do not pay sales or property taxes to help pay for their upkeep. In fact, every penny of sales tax that out-of-state Internet retailers do not collect increases their profits while at the same time making it harder for our Massachusetts businesses, many of whom are small “mom and pop” stores, to compete and survive.

As the mayor of Salem, I know firsthand that our local retailers are struggling to compete against online competitors like Amazon. Amazon recently purchased a facility in Cambridge, and it has been recently reported that Gov. Deval Patrick is working with Amazon to level the playing the field for local businesses in Massachusetts. Agreements have been reached in several states, including states like New Jersey with a Republican governor, for online retailers like Amazon to collect sales tax.

For those of you who think that this is just another way for the state to collect more of your money, let me be clear: This is not a new tax. This agreement would only force online-only retailers to collect the same sales tax that is currently collected at any local brick-and-mortar business in your community. It has been estimated that not closing this sales tax loophole costs the commonwealth more than $300 million in lost revenue every year.

This competitive advantage over local brick-and-mortar businesses needs to be addressed. Online-only businesses don’t collect sales tax, don’t invest in our local economy by sponsoring Little League teams and charity drives, and they don’t pay property taxes for the roads and bridges that they use to deliver their goods to consumers. So when you think about going shopping on Black Friday, Small Business Saturday or Cyber Monday, I encourage you to shop locally and support the local brick-and-mortar businesses who do so much for our local economy by providing jobs, paying their fair share in taxes and contributing to our sense of community.

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Kimberley Driscoll is the mayor of Salem and co-chairwoman of the Massachusetts Main Streets Fairness Coalition.