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The Benefits of Patronizing Local Businesses and Downtowns

And Mark Your Calendars for Small Business Saturday, Nov. 30

Downtown Newton at night, by Jennifer Jean Miller

SUSSEX COUNTY – With the holiday season nearing, it is time to ponder what to purchase for gift giving and get-togethers.

These days, we are often inundated with offers from the mega-giants, meaning the big box bargain stores. There are also the mammoth online sites, which claim to carry everything under the sun. We are lured into thinking with these impersonal venues, we will get the best of everything, including price, along with the convenience of shopping while sitting in our armchairs, or from the touch of our computer keyboard, or smart phones.

At the same time, it is the consumers, not the merchants, who can unlock the keys to “everything under the sun,” and do that by patronizing local businesses. This is because, as we could on the web, and even more so, shoppers have the freedom to make the choice of what we would like to buy, when, and how. We can honestly, however, achieve the best of the best with our purchases by shopping with local businesses.

We harness an even greater collective buying power by stepping onto our own sidewalks, and into our own downtowns, instead of buying from some run-of-the-mill chain store or mundane virtual one. Those are passive and without personality. What we purchase in our neighborhood instead multiplies – we are achieving a greater good by shopping locally, because it benefits our communities as a whole. Our neighborhoods and downtowns not only grow financially, they flourish and build character. They end up cleaner and safer as well. And filled with a mutual pride from both the business owners, and their customers.

Never forget, unlike the big boxes and impersonal gigantic websites (such as the one with the same name as a rainforest), there are welcoming local merchants waiting to serve you the second you walk through their doors, with their wares and services, tailored just for you. They can bring to you more superior products, and do so in an accommodating way that is far more convenient and friendly to you as a consumer. They invest their all into you, because their business is an extension of them, and in turn, because their business is personally important to them, you are a priority as well. That is worth its weight in gold, far more valuable than any “special” one may believe they scored from “Wally World” or “Tar-zhay,” on any given day.

Anyway, who really wants the dime-a-dozen items, which big pockets somewhere else outside of our area are blessed by the proceeds, when you can shop with a community business, purchase higher quality for comparable prices (which local stores are typically willing to match, or offer an even better price), and invest back into your own neighborhood?

Not to say that the retail discount giants do not provide jobs to our areas, as some may argue with this post — they obviously do. Yet there are many downsides as well. And studies also show that once the national chains arrive, there is a rise in unemployment in the areas that they are located, as other smaller local businesses reduce their head counts as business slows, or are shut down altogether. Plus, their arrivals impact local wages, even depressing them, according to studies, versus independent retailers, which tend to pay higher, and even exceed minimum wage. In the long run, do the proceeds from big box retailers go back into the communities where they have stores? Look to their corporate headquarters instead as the keeper of the profits. And unless one of these corporate headquarters is in your neighborhood, your community is not reaping the benefit from it, outside of some tax ratables (which some studies have shown that impact on local services can negate the net proceeds from taxes). Other studies have shown that the independent retailers put 52 percent of their revenue back into the local economy, to the national chains that recirculate only 13.6 percent.

Though many are wooed into the “deals” from the big “local” and online retailers, according to a web survey from Accenture, of 500 consumers polled, there are more who plan to “Webroom” (window shop first online, then go to the store), than “Showroom” (look in the store first, then buy online).

That is good news for local retailers who will be given the opportunity first to meet those in their neighborhoods, before those consumers look back online. That is a warm lead, folks! For businesses building relationships with these neighbors, there is an opportunity for a loyalty to develop, which could continue for the rest of the year through, and beyond.

And for consumers, whereas shopping online or from catalogs may have offered some greater pull in the past, now with the increase in shipping charges and concerns about the environmental impacts as well from the shipping processes, it makes more fiscal and environmental sense to be sustainable, and patronize businesses closer to home.

In other words, both consumers and merchants are making a difference in the community. By having a local business, merchants are putting a share into their neighborhood. They are added to the tax rolls, which helps to take care of improving schools and infrastructure. And of course, it offers the opportunity to employ other locals, and increase job opportunities in the area.

For consumers who stimulate the economy by shopping in their neighborhood, you are rebuilding the downtowns as well, by keeping them thriving through your contributions.

So give those local stores, service providers, and restaurants a chance when you are considering your purchases this holiday season and beyond.  And especially get out on Saturday, Nov. 30, Small Business Saturday (the Saturday after Thanksgiving — click the video at the top of our story to learn more), to celebrate local merchants –- remember they will also celebrate you — and together you will add more building blocks to further grow and strengthen your community.

Now that is something to celebrate.


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