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Crazy Days shows enduring legacy of hometown businesses

The sun shined on Marshall’s Crazy Days in 2022, enough so that people wanted to go out and shop.

It led to crowds in the downtown business district and at businesses in other locations. A wide range of specials and promotions were available. Everyone liked the annual Kiddie Parade.

When I looked at one of our front pages earlier in the week, I wondered if a major business-related news item would cast a shadow over Crazy Days. It was announced that Thrifty White Drug on West Main Street was immediately shutting down after many years.

I considered it and decided after reading the article that it didn’t have to cast a shadow. It’s simply the latest development in a long line of changes in the business community.

People who remember back to the 20th century can recall many business places that no longer exist. Two of the foremost examples are the Sears store and the Olson and Lowe clothing store.

There are lots of others; the S&L store on Third Street, Kay’s Shoes, Gag’s Drug, Ben Franklin and many more. They were successful in their time period, and then eventually faded from the scene.

At least in Marshall, other new businesses have been established to take their place. Many of them started around the millennium or shortly thereafter, a time of major commercial expansion in the city.

The character of downtown has changed. There are fewer stores that function as all-purpose establishments, ones that carry a wide range of merchandise in their main product areas.

Thrifty White was the latest in a series of downtown pharmacies that met customer needs the traditional way. The chain started when pharmacies were almost always their own individual businesses. We didn’t have them in grocery stores or at discount centers.

Things changed in the 1990s as those kinds of businesses expanded into pharmacy and other new product divisions such as optical and banking.

Many consumers responded by choosing to shop in the large diversified stores. We see it every day with the heavy traffic in the commercial area between Marshall’s Hy-Vee and Menard’s. When that area became established, it displaced the Market Street Mall as a primary local businss site, a mall that had been very popular in the late 1970s and 1980s.

It’s hard to say what the future will bring. We can safely conclude that there will be other changes, other businesses that exit after many years and other new ones with a good market niche that emerge and attain 21st century success.

Still it’s not exactly a pleasant change at first when a business you’ve shopped at for many years closes down. We know it’s because of economic change and consumer choice, but there’s something that’s not entirely right about it.

It seems that by choosing the big box stores, those hundreds of consumers make a choice that limits the choices for me and others. It’s resulted in consolidations. Many communities in the rural Midwest that once had several small pharmacies, hardware stores and grocery stores are down to just the large ones, except for a few that can still operate on a small scale with enough of a market.

It worked out all right for me this week. I looked around at the choices for pharmacies and found one that will definitely meet my needs.

Whether smaller establishments continue depends largely on the customer base. It will take enough people deciding that they want to work with a smaller store, that they see a difference in terms of service and convenience.

We should hope that there’s always good competition in any product category. That’s critical for making sure customers won’t be taken for granted, that good service will still be part of what keeps them coming back.

Each Crazy Days we see many great examples of businesses throughout Marshall going the extra mile to promote themselves and to offer high quality merchandise at bargain prices.

It’s a sign that local commerce can continue to thrive in the 21st century. Even with many changes, even though business districts look very different from a generation ago, there’s still a goal among business people to please the public.

That leads to long, successful business relationships with many loyal customers. It’s enough to sustain a well-rounded retail and service sector for many years to come.

— Jim Muchlinski is a longtime reporter and contributor to the Marshall Independent

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