All too predictably, lawmakers in Washington continue to drag their feet on what we small-business owners call “e-fairness”—a commonsense closing of the online sales tax loophole that puts brick-and-mortar retailers at a massive disadvantage in the marketplace. Significantly complicating matters for small-business owners like myself, however, is the rise of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba in the U.S. market. 

I own P&E Distributors in Goodlettsville, Tennessee, a high performance parts and truck accessory warehouse. Because we are legally bound to collect the sales tax, it creates the illusion that online retailers have better prices than I offer. As more customers go online to avoid sales tax, more and more local retailers and communities will suffer economic decline and job losses.  


Recently we had a customer at our front counter with a list of performance engine parts he needed for his street rod and he had already shopped us against our online competitor. He said if we would match their prices, he would rather buy it from us. The problem came when we totaled the sale, it was more than $1,000 and the sales tax in Tennessee is 9.75%. If we didn’t knock enough off the prices to cover the sales tax, over $100 in this case which lessened our already low profit, he was going to go back online and make his purchase. 

Enter Alibaba, the world’s largest online retailer —bigger than Amazon and eBay put together. With the company’s initial public offering in the United States earlier this year (at a record-breaking $25 billion), it is flush with cash and poised to compete in a big, big way in the U.S. market. Unfortunately, as it does so, Alibaba will enjoy the same unfair advantage as American online retailers—except this time it will be a Chinese company putting U.S. Main Street shops out of business. 

Those in Congress who oppose the Marketplace Fairness Act, which would close the online sales tax loophole, should take note. Allowing online retailers—and in this case, foreign-owned companies—to forgo sales tax collection is nothing short of the government picking winners and losers in the retail marketplace. This infringement on the free market should enrage them—especially when one of the big players from our most significant global rival stands to benefit, perhaps more than any other single entity. 

As clearly demonstrated by nearly every poll in recent memory, Congress is held in very low esteem by the American people, in large part because our legislative leaders have repeatedly failed to find the compromises needed on big issues to move our country and economy forward. But the combination of a failure to close the online sales tax loophole with the emergence of Alibaba goes beyond unacceptable, even from this Congress. 

Last month, Americans delivered a message on Election Day: we want our elected officials to work—and work together—to pass meaningful legislation that will help the American people, our businesses, and our economy.  Passing e-fairness will do all three, while ensuring foreign companies and conglomerates like Alibaba don’t steamroll our local Main Street retailers here in Tennessee and across the country. 

Will our legislative bodies really sit back idly and allow a massive, foreign retailer enjoy a huge advantage in the U.S. marketplace—all courtesy of the U.S. government and our outdated sales tax laws? It’s time for Congress to make a choice: pass e-fairness or give foreign retailers special treatment over U.S. small businesses. 

This saga needs to end today. No more lip service on supporting small-business owners, we need action and we need it now. The reality is we simply cannot afford to wait for a level playing field any longer, the sales taxes are already due and this legislation is long overdue! 

Eatherly is president of P&E of Distributors Inc. in Goodlettsville, Tennessee.