What New Census Data Show about the State of Independent Retail

By Stacy Mitchell on December 16, 2010

According to newly released data from the U. S. Economic Census, overall sales at independent retailers grew by about 4 percent, after adjusting for inflation, between 2002 and 2007.

The bad news is that chains grew faster and independents still lost market share, falling from 31 to 28 percent of consumer retail spending. This decline in market share, however, was considerably slower in this five-year period, compared with the preceding 20 years, in which independents lost ground at a faster rate. In 1982, independent retailers captured nearly half of all retail spending.


In 2007, Americans spent an average of $2,520 at independent retailers, $941 at Wal-Mart, and $5,615 at other chains.


The U. S. Economic Census is conducted every five years. The resulting data are released in batches two to four years later. For this analysis, the New Rules Project defines independent retailers as those with fewer than 10 outlets.


Because the 2007 Census preceded the current recession, the downturn's impact on both independents and chains will not be evident until the 2012 Census.