Changing the Face of Downtowns

THIS is Why Merchants are So Angry, Grumpy, and Irritable.

THIS is Why Merchants are So Angry, Grumpy, and Irritable.

May 29, 2013

Let’s do a little bit of Main Street Math. Follow with me. This should be fun.

The average downtown retail space in America is about 2000 sq. ft.
The average downtown rent in America is about $16.40 per sq. ft.
That means that the normal downtown retailer is paying about $32,800 a year in rent.

So, with out standard market up of 50%, the retailer needs to sell $65,600 worth of product just to break even. for rent. alone.

Okay, a little more math. Let’s get slightly more complicated now. Did I mention my mom taught math in high school?
Ok, back to class.

You need lights and heat.- Average monthly bill of $674.09 x 12= 8089.08
Need to sell another $16,178.16

Insurance- $1458.00
Phone, Fax, Internet- $218.00 x 12= $2616.00
Security- $54.18 x 12= $650.16
Window Washer- $12 x 24= $288.00
Cash Register Tape, Shopping Bags, Toilet Paper, etc= $28.68 x 12= $344.16
Total of $5,356.32

Need to sell another $10,712.64

Grand total of $92,490.80 simply to exist.
WAIT!!! So, if you process credit cards, it will cost you an additional $2034.79 to process all those payments.


But people should make money, even a little money, right? So let’s add in the average starting salary for a teacher in the lowest paying state in the Union, Montana.

At this rate, a downtown business needs to sell $577.03 every single day that it is open.
Every single day, simply to be compensated the same as America’s lowest paid teachers. And this is all in a perfect vacuum. This assumes that every product you buy, you sell. There are no sales. Nothing is shoplifted. Nothing is scratched, dented, rotten or ruined. Yet, we wonder why those merchants seem so grumpy. We wonder why when we walk in their store, they always seem to expect us to do something for them. We have to make a change. The time is now for the rebirth of the Merchant Class. We need to elevate the role of local business owners. Elevate the independent thinkers, and the creative risk takers. Empower the future to own downtown, and make a good living doing it.


  1. Mickey Howley /

    Ben, rent cost vary a lot in small towns, those rent numbers seem high, nowhere close to Valley rents– more like .60 to .40 per ft per month—and trend here is less sq. footage—like 1,000 or less.
    Now the TP costs you have are low—not saying there is a lot of crap in my gallery, but do spend more than that on keeping place and self clean. But we wash our own windows.
    The rest of the numbers look pretty close.

    • Mickey, you got that right, rents rates vary greatly. I averaged the median rent rate by region. I thought that would give me one of the fairest numbers. The average for what they consider to be Main Street or Local retail was between 1000-3875 sq.ft, but I also know, sadly, that the trend for infill is larger instead of smaller space. And OF COURSE YOU WASH YOUR OWN WINDOWS!
      I just hope it can get some folks to think about it a little deeper! Thanks for all you do, and thanks for working so hard to lead Water Valley in being a Great American Small Town.

  2. Good customer service costs nothing but yields tremendous benefits. I think the majority of our shopkeepers are delightful. If you encounter ones who aren’t, shop elsewhere. They will soon get the message.

    On the other hand, it behooves us to support our local retailers as much as possible. They give our community its unique individual flair. I love that there is not a single Gap, Banana Republic, Urban Outfitters, et al that make up almost every other community you visit.

  3. Been there and done that-own a business in a downtown! Never made a salary but had three employees,paid taxes and generated interest in the community when I adaptively reused an old warehouse. Funny thing was that I closed shop after 3 years of no pay and went back to college to be one of those-under-paid-teachers! Full circle? Why? Because I am reinvesting my future restoring a grand mansion 2 blocks from Main St. So I cannot quit teaching (haven’t had a raise in 4 years) in order to help fuel another project! It keeps me up at night-But I love it and America needs Downtowns and the message it carries to all that hard work will always be hard work but sometimes good things happen to good people! Visit our progress jonesmansion on facebook.

  4. Ron Roth /

    New street lights, planters, benches, look nice but will not increse business. Go to your downtown business district at 5:05 pm. Most all stores are closed.
    Customers neeed to shop after work and on Sunday.
    As a former downtown merchant, I succeded by knowning my customers by name, offering exceptional service, and selling my products at a fair price, and were opened at the times my customers wanted to shop.
    We weren’t the cheapest but, we had the selection our customers wanted and made it fun to shop, asked about their families, supported community projects, school activities.
    I was active in the downtown merchants association, the chamber of commerce and a service club.
    By doing what we did, we built a business that did over 1 million dollars a year. We were in business for 22 years. I sold out to my partner and the business continued.

    Give em what they want and they will come.

  5. rent was right on track for my store, but, what you left out was we are also expected, and rightfully so, to support the community in which we do business, so, add another $5,000, at least, in donations.

  6. Jeff, thanks for sharing your info. Spot on.


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