Views mixed on local vs. outside-owned businesses

For the Colorado Daily

Heather Kleeman didn't consider her Saturday afternoon shopping excursion to The Gap on the Pearl Street Mall as a political statement. But 50 activists chanting and holding protest signs outside the store's front doors did.

Members of the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center (RMPJC) and several CU student groups marched along the mall Saturday afternoon, decrying the role of large corporations in international affairs and their affect on local businesses. Protest leaders said they hoped to educate the community about the implications of corporate power while expressing solidarity with Prague's September 26 rally against the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.

"All my friends shop at The Gap," said Kleeman, a CU senior, as she watched a group called the Radical Cheerleaders cry for liberation in front of the store, "All my friends drink Starbucks. I just buy what I need."

One local Pearl Street vendor who counts on shoppers like Kleeman said he doesn't mind big corporations like The Gap and Banana Republic moving in along the mall -- as long as they bring more business. He said he wished the protesters would go home and not be so loud about the issues of labor and markets.

"They're making a ruckus," he complained. "Why don't these people just write letters to the newspapers?"

Jon Stevenson, manager of Pearl Street's Abercrombie and Fitch store, said he doesn't like protests outside his store either, but is not concerned about any affects on sales.

"Nothing is going to keep a soccer mom from buying her kids our clothes," he said. "Even terrible conditions in third world countries."

The Gap and Banana Republic's store policies forbid employees to speak to the press.

"It's hard for me to get emotional about things like sweatshops because I'm so far away from them," Kleeman explained, listening to demonstrators chant, "Take your crap back to The Gap."

Surrounded by demonstrators holding signs reading, "Support local businesses" and "Do you know what you're buying?" RMPJC volunteer Lindsey Collins said Kleeman's position is one of the main reasons for her involvement in the rally.

"A lot of people go into these stores and they just don't know that people are being affected by their money," she said.

The people affected by consumers' money include not only foreigners in far-away sweatshops, but local business owners vulnerable to losing their leases and customers to big business, she said.

Jon Murray, owner of Pearl Street's Red Letter Second Hand Book Store, said he cannot see his store open any longer than five more years. At that point, his lease will be up for renewal, and he won't be able to afford the new rent, he said.

In Murray's opinion, local real estate agents gauge rents in business districts on what a store like Borders or Barnes and Noble can afford to pay, not the independent merchant. Though he appreciates that bigger stores are good for the local economy as a whole, he said the corporations make it "much harder for us to stay in business."

"We've been sliding along in the wake of big business for 10 years," Murray said. "In five years, we'll be done."

Colorado Daily, September 25, 2000, page 3