PEKIN — Shopping local may have a larger impact on the daily lives of local residents than one could imagine.

The sales tax dollars generated by local businesses help fund services such as pothole repair and even baseball or softball leagues through the park district. 

However, when those businesses are bypassed to shop elsewhere, those tax dollars help benefit other communities.

“When you shop local, you’re supporting a local business, who in turn supports the community by sponsoring baseball teams, Little League teams and events in town,” Pekin Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Bill Fleming said. “If you go across the river and shop, if you go across the county and shop, you’re supporting the programs in those communities and not the programs in Pekin.” 

He said the sales tax is the largest funding stream for the city.

“When you shop in Pekin, that money is going to help pay for roads, police (and) firemen, infrastructure and all the basic services we need in our community,” he said. “If instead you go to another community, you’re fixing their potholes.”

Business owners don’t care where a prospective customer is from — they just want to make a sale. The same is true of the consumer, said Fleming.

“I think consumers are just looking for either good customer service, good value or a good price and they’re less concerned about where they find that,” said Fleming. “I think in some respects, that’s why people are turning more towards the internet.

“It’s convenient. You can get a good price or price shop right online. ... There are a lot of people who shop online, but never spend money online. They’re looking for, ‘What do I need, what’s a good price, what are the features I’m looking for’ and then going out and finding it locally. I know several people who do that. The internet can be a research tool. I do it a lot.”

The challenge for local merchants is to be able to compete on quality, provide great customer service and “a memorable shopping experience that will bring people back. You don’t get that online,” said Fleming.

The younger generation shops online and never sees a salesman, Fleming said. They determine what they want, email the company with what they will pay and get an email asking when they want to pick it up, he said. 

He said businesses are learning that they need a bigger online presence if they want to compete even for local dollars.

Steger’s Furniture President Jack Steger said his business is not as impacted by the internet as those who sell commodities like books, clothes and shoes. People don’t typically order a couch online because they want to come in and feel the fabric, see how it sits and to make sure it is in great condition. 

Steger said if the customer wants a different color, the store can order it and get it quickly delivered. It’s all about service and price. He said it is not easy to order furniture online and have it delivered unscathed. Steger takes every piece out of the box and inspects it.

Even if people don’t order furniture online, people can still go to neighboring communities.

“There’s definitely competition out there, there’s no doubt about it, even local verses the internet,” said Steger. “We are very aggressive in pricing. We have a price guarantee. As long as it’s apples to apples, we can guarantee our price.

“Price is not an issue. We can compete with anybody. We’re in a nationwide buying group with over 400 stores.”

Steger said there are three types of furniture stores — mom & pop, medium and the big box store. He said Steger is a medium size store.

“I love going up against the big box stores because I can out-service them,” he said. “I’ve got a local warehouse with about $2 million of inventory sitting in it. A real small store doesn’t have a 30,000-square-foot warehouse and 50,000-square-foot showroom. The Ashley’s, the Furniture Rows, they don’t inventory much in their stores.”

One local business recently closed it doors, Newman-Ullman. The business, a wholesale distribution company, opened in 1859. The owner’s grandson, Bill Parker, said, “I would ask people when considering making the day-to-day purchases to think local. Family run businesses are still the backbone of this country. Without the support of the community around them, family owned businesses will continue to struggle.”