Can local businesses compete with Amazon?

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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) How does Amazon affect Vermont's local businesses?
Many of us know how easy it is to hop on your computer, scroll through your favorite products and press order. But now, some Vermonters want to send the message to think before you click.
"I want to bring my daughter into my business and I want to make sure that we have a window of 20 more years of staying in business as bricks-and-mortar retailers," said Michael DeSanto, the owner of Phoenix Books.
DeSanto and author Stacy Mitchell are encouraging community members to buy local. They held a conversation to discuss Amazon's impact on Vermont's economy Monday.

"As Amazon sales grow, we're also seeing that it's eliminating a lot of retail jobs," said Mitchell. "They're increasingly really monopolizing online commerce."

But as many would admit, online shopping can be so tempting and convenient.

"I would probably choose online shopping because you could just get the best quality for the cheapest," said Vanessa Phillips, who visited Burlington and used to live in Vermont.

"I like local businesses more but I do still buy stuff online,” said Molly Duff, an Essex resident. "I just bought a Christmas present online because it was so much easier."

The Vermont Retail & Grocers Association says more than 65,000 people work at 14,000 bricks-and-mortar stores around the state. The association tells us just a small percentage of those retailers maintain an online shopping presence.

On the contrary, Burlington's Church Street Marketplace says two-thirds of its retailers sell to customers through their websites.

The Burlington Business Association tells us that sales have been consistent in the Queen City's downtown area over the last few years, acknowledging seasonal spikes and a small drop from the closings at City Place.

"I don't really like online shopping because I like to look at what I’m buying and experience it first," said Sofia Hurwitz, who lives in Burlington.

WCAX asked some local businesses to weigh in on the debate. The owner of Outdoor Gear Exchange, Mike Donohue, doesn't think of Amazon as a threat but instead uses the website as a tool to sell the company's products.

"We sell items that you can't buy on Amazon. We have vendors that don't sell to Amazon," said Donohue. "We also have many educated staff members here who can do things like ski boot fits."

"Fifty-five percent of online shoppers now start their shopping at Amazon," said Mitchell.

Mitchell wants legislators to monitor Amazon's power so that its continued growth doesn't destroy local shops.

"We also want people to be talking to their elected representatives because Amazon has benefited a lot from tax advantages and subsidies," she said.

The Vermont Retail & Grocers Association also tells us stores account for almost $2.7 billion of the state’s gross domestic product.