Suzanne Randa was an eBay dabbler, selling collectibles from her home in tiny LaCrosse, Kansas (population: 1,400). Then, in 2003, the local school district asked her to help sell a 1918 schoolhouse that had been closed down.
The nearby town of McCracken hoped to get $5,000 for its schoolhouse. But Randa (eBay User ID: funfindsfromsuz) got 200 offers and sold the building for a whopping $49,500. That wasn't the only benefit: The buyer, an eBay seller of motorcycle and dirt bike parts, moved its distribution center into the old schoolhouse. Randa, 43, says that as well as adding to McCracken's population of just 200, the business will help keep the town's tiny post office open with its shipping volume.
Small-town entrepreneurs such as Randa are discovering that selling on eBay isn't just a great way to make a living--it can help build their communities, too. In Russell, Kansas, eBay Certified Education Specialist Joyce Banbury says the coming of high-speed internet access to many rural areas has made eBay selling an increasingly viable option.
Small-town America is full of salable items, Randa says. She now has a thriving business as an eBay Trading Assistant. Randa, who typically sells about $7,000 in merchandise each month, had three real estate listings up last fall, including a 51-unit, $1.9 million motel in Hays, Kansas. She thinks of the property sales as a community service, because they bring new people to town and keep buildings in use. "I sold a local restaurant for $50,000 to a couple from Germany, and they moved to LaCrosse," she says.
Randa gets her eBay selling done even though she's unable to drive. Her town is so small, there is no street mail delivery, so people bring items to her, and she takes public transportation or bums rides to get to the post office. (Banbury points out that in most small towns, sellers can now print postage online and have the U.S. Postal Service pick up packages right at their doorsteps.) Randa says her eBay income gives her a lifestyle she couldn't possibly afford on her disability checks alone.
In her 25 years of watching young people leave for big cities, Banbury believes online selling is the first ray of hope that she's seen for sustaining small towns. "Now you can sit at a computer and do e-commerce," she says. "It opens a door. You can stay where you're at and make however much money you want."Seattlewriter Carol Tice reports on business and finance for The Seattle Times, Seattle Magazine and other leading publications.
The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.