A pirate mannequin sits outside Treasure Chest Crafts in downtown Presque Isle, one of several stores in the downtown area. Credit: Jen Lynds

We all know retail shopping is a struggle in The County. We have fewer and fewer national stores to choose from, and our local businesses are hurting, too.

Just look around in shopping centers or on Main Street. How many empty spaces do you see? Wherever you go, you hear people talking about the sad state of the shopping climate here.

They’re right.

But the cause prompts debate.

Most folks say online shopping is to blame — particularly a certain web behemoth that offers a huge selection, low prices and sometimes even free shipping. It’s a valid point, although most folks I talk to would rather shop where they’re supporting neighbors and can actually see what they’re buying.

As far as large national retailers go, we’re in a catch-22. Big retail wants to sell to the masses, but they want high populations and guaranteed numbers. We want big retail’s selection and prices, but we’re a very small mass that doesn’t amount to a blip on corporate radar.

Though, luckily, we do have some national stores in the region that seem to be thriving, so many others have left — Kmart, Sears, Staples, to name a few — most citing poor store performance and customer dependence on online shopping.

But is online shopping the culprit? Or is it poor corporate philosophy?

Granted, retailers just won’t see the income they’d see in a large city.  But the national chain store websites, too, have played their part in toppling brick-and-mortar entities.  Perhaps if the out-of-state corporate heads had had a better investment in their smaller stores, we wouldn’t be in this mess.

Why refuse to stock items and direct people to order from the website? And why send merchandise from corporate inventories that people who live here won’t use? A store manager once told me he had told corporate heads that hot-climate inventory wouldn’t sell in Aroostook County. Corporate sent it anyway.

Who has shot whom in the foot?

Our local shops and small businesses may have their struggles, but they are the ones who have their fingers on the region’s pulse. They are the ones most invested in their communities and, hopefully, our reliance on them will make a difference — because The County’s best corporate philosophy is supporting friends and neighbors like we’ve done for generations.