Christmas / holiday shopping. The displays have been in the stores for weeks. Catalogs are coming in the mail. I don’t watch television much so I can’t attest to holiday-themed commercials, but I suspect they’re becoming more frequent. I think I saw something on the web recently about Toy R Us and Black Friday.
I confess I’ve been thinking about holiday shopping for awhile, too. I started to think about it around the beginning of October as the Occupy Wall Street movement began to get traction.
As weird as this may sound, we should give gifts at holiday time in order to feed our consumer-driven economy. But our choices for gifts, whether it is what we desire or what we give, can have an impact on our economy. I’m not talking about making holiday gifts. While making gifts can be very personal, I’m not that good with crafts anyway, plus my available time to make things is hard to come by. Still, we can make gift decisions and requests which can support our local economy better.
Sunday’s New York Times had an article about a community-owned department store in Saranac Lake, NY. Several years ago the local Ames Department store went out of business. Residents had to drive 50 miles to Plattesburgh, NY to buy underwear. Wal-Mart wanted to locate a supercenter there. It split the town. Wal-Mart withdrew. Some residents decided to open a community-owned downtown department store. The organizers raised $500,000 by selling shares to residents for $100 each. It opened on Oct. 29.
The article pointed out that residents of Saranac Lake are not only glad for the store, but are pleased that it is locally owned. It has even received support from some of the local downtown merchants. The article also noted that a pair of Penn State economists recently analyzed nearly 3000 rural and urban areas across the United States and found that areas with more small, locally owned businesses (with fewer than 100 employees and headquartered in the same state) had greater per capita growth from 2000 to 2007 than areas with larger, nonlocal firms, which depressed economic growth.
It makes sense. Purchasing on-line doesn’t benefit your local community’s economy at all. Buying something from Amazon may be very convenient, but how does any percentage of your purchase flow back into the local economy? There’s not even a store clerk who will be paid, who in turn can spend money in the community. (Also, let’s not forget that Amazon is still working hard to avoid paying state sales taxes on your purchase – so there’s no benefit even there.) It is slightly better to purchase directly from a store, such as a local Barnes and Noble or a Best Buy. At least the store’s staff, your neighbors and others in the community, gets paid. Still, a purchase from a large nonlocal store sends a lot of that purchase out of the community.
Buy locally. Shop at a locally-owned business. I love going to The Bookstore in Lenox. I get to have a great conversation with Matt Tannenbaum, the owner. I get excellent service AND I support a locally-owned business. More of my dollar remains in the local economy, which means the local economy is stronger for my purchase.
If we’re intentional about our economic behaviors, we’re not completely at the mercy of the 1%. We won’t be completely free of them, but shopping from locally-owned businesses will strengthen the community in which we live. Isn’t a strong community important? Isn’t this what we really want? It’s our choice.