A lot has changed in downtown Ardmore since Jimmy Gaston, owner of DaCapo music, first walked from shop to shop as a kid during the holidays.
Shoppers were everywhere. Christmas lights were draped across every light post and it seemed like there wasn’t a soul who wasn’t chomping at the bit to see what the Daube department store Christmas display would be that year.
It was a different time, when brick and mortar was king.
“When I was growing up, downtown was where you went to shop,” Gaston said. “Now, it seems like people would rather just stay at home.”
Gaston purchased DaCapo Music, located at 216 W Main St., in 2014.
He said the past few Christmas seasons have been good, but this year his business took a major hit.
While the Christmas sales boom generally keeps his business afloat, Gaston said his sales for November and December are down 35 percent.
“I never dreamed it would crash this hard and this fast,” Gaston said. “We rely on November and December. When it’s good, that’s what gets us through, but it wasn’t here this year,”
Gaston said the rough holiday season won’t put him out of business this year, but if the trend continues, he’s going to have a hard time keeping his doors open.
“It’s going to make for a tough summer,” Gaston said. “Those months are going to hurt and we’re just going to have to dig deeper. If it keeps going this way, I may not survive another few years like this.”
While Gaston said some have speculated that the warm weather kept people out of the Christmas shopping spirit, he said the main issue is competing with online retailers.
In addition to competing with the cyber Monday deals and the convenience of online shopping, like any other brick and mortar store in Ardmore, Gaston has to charge customers 9 percent sales tax for every purchase.
But with online retailers, that same tax is left up to customers to declare when they file their taxes for online purchases come tax season. And if people don’t settle up, that makes Gaston’s products nearly 10 percent more expensive.
At times, Gaston said he offers a 9 percent discount just to stay competitive so customers don’t turn around and purchase the same product online.
Gaston, an army veteran, is not afraid to compete with online stores, he said he just wants a fair fight.
“We just need a level playing field,” he said. “Right now, it’s not fair.”
The rise of online shopping hasn’t just affected DaCapo Music.
“All the retailers around here that I talked to said it’s been really bad,” Gaston said. “I hate to say it, but we’re probably going to be losing a few businesses this year. Online sales exceedingly increased this year, something’s gotta give. People are going to spend X amount of money for the year on Christmas — this year it looks like they decided to spend it online.”
Ardmore City Manager JD Spohn said the the sales tax issue isn’t just a problem for brick and mortar stores in Ardmore.
“It’s a big problem for all cities in Oklahoma,” Spohn said. “We’re the only state that doesn’t collect property tax, so we rely on that online sales tax.”
Recently some strides have been made.
At the local level, the Ardmore Main Street Authority and the Ardmore Development Authority are spearheading efforts to revitalize the downtown area, and encourage residents to shop local. Recently, the Ardmore Parks and Recreation Department held a Stocking Stroll to drive shoppers downtown this Christmas season.
At the state level, Amazon agreed to collect state sales tax from Oklahoma residents and in 2016 House Bill 2531 passed, expanding the definition of companies that must add the tax, including those that use Oklahoma warehouses and sales operations run by others.
But Spohn said it will take action at the federal level to give the state the power to enforce the law.
“The state has passed legislation, but we need the teeth of the federal government to help fix this issue,” Spohn said.