McRae’s story illustrates that of all retailers

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Campaigns to urge hometown people to shop at local businesses are nothing new. Every year or so as Christmas approaches, some new gimmick arises to promote shopping at home.

And, in fact, organizations such as the Natchez-Adams County Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Development Association periodically issue messages to remind consumers of what it means to shop at home.

The message rang clear from Mary Flach the other day during an interview about a star employee in McRae’s better sportswear department.

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Flach, the Natchez store’s exuberant manager, said she and others at McRae’s work diligently to get the very best labels and brands of goods to sell in the store.

&8220;Right now, what I need is more room,&8221; she said in her characteristic good humor as she talked about how the store is bulging with merchandise.

As a matter of fact, plans may not be on the drawing board yet, but higher-ups in the chain of command already have indicated the Natchez store could be ripe for expansion.

Flach has had an impact on the McRae’s store. Her contagious enthusiasm, effervescent personality and community spirit have nurtured some positive changes at the store, which anchors the east side of The Natchez Mall.

Still, she has concerns about the future, the success of which lies directly in the decisions made by local shoppers.

McRae’s draws from a wide area, with people from perhaps a radius of 40 miles or more coming to the mall to shop at that store in addition to others.

Flach knows that many Natchez consumers like to shop out of town, and she acknowledges that some of that is all right &045; just not all of it.

&8220;We’ve seen an 18 percent increase in sales in our better sportswear department in the last year,&8221; she said. &8220;I know that’s because many of the people who usually would go out of town to shop are shopping with us instead.&8221;

Good for them. And good for all of us if that is the case. The downside is that not all of the departments in the McRae’s store have those same positive statistics. Getting those numbers up is Flach’s goal.

&8220;I’m seeing more of that shopping at home, a group of people becoming more faithful to their hometown store,&8221; she said. &8220;Our people need to stay here and shop.&8221;

If sales continue to grow in other departments, hometown shoppers reap the rewards of an expanded store.

The flip side of that is a store that could languish and lose some of the better lines Flach and others have worked hard to get for Natchez-area shoppers.

McRae’s story is only one. It is a big one and embodies what other retailers face. The big picture has two possibilities for the future: Natchez as a vibrant shopping mecca and Natchez as second best.

How easy it is to sit in comfy pajamas, drinking a second cup of coffee, selecting items from a catalog. The 800 number is easy, and the items come right to the front door in a few days.

It’s fun to take a day off with friends and go to a larger city and see what the giant malls have to offer.

With too many people making a habit of shopping in those alternative ways, however, Natchez retail outlets suffer. Local stores give local people jobs. Shopping at home makes sense and confirms what community is all about.

Joan Gandy

is community editor of The Democrat. She can be reached at (601) 445-3549 or by e-mail at