Saturday, November 27, 2010

Shop local today

You may have seen the AmEx ads on TV that indicate that today is Small Business Saturday. Sandwiched between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, it's a day to go out and support your local small business.

I didn't know that this was all AmEx's idea, but it's a good one. These days, chain stores seem to offer everything. They have the huge parking lots, the extended hours, the deep discounts, and the proximity to coffee shops and bars. The downside is that you deeply need a drink after going into one of those, especially during the holiday season. I don't know about you, but I always leave feeling stressed out and reminded of how much more I have to do.

Another thing chain stores can't offer you is diversity. Someone on your list has asked for new living room lamps, for example, so you go to look at them at Target or Home Depot. As you pick one up and hold it, imagining it in your friend's living room, millions of people across the country are doing the exact same thing. There's nothing special, really, about the lamp you're going to buy.

To tie it in to books, it's even worse in bookstores. Recently, I visited my local indie bookstore for the first time in about a year. On display were a plethora of books that Barnes and Noble just doesn't carry. Books on radical politics, the history of the LGTB movement in vaudeville, interesting things like that. Why would they? There's no profit margin in it. Speaking of which, ever look for anything in there recently that's not a novel, a children's book, or some sort of study guide or computer book? Their nonfiction section seems to be smaller every time I go there.

And I know the argument is that you can just order it online, but that takes the serendipity out of it. A few years ago, I read a terrific book about tortoises. I didn't read it because I woke up one morning in the mood to know more about tortoises. I didn't decide to seek out a book on tortoises. I just ran across it at the library. It was a terrific book. I learned more than I ever thought there might be to know about their role in human history.

And as far as economic arguments go for shopping local, other people have made them much better than I ever could, with far more math and better statistics. The bottom line is that if you buy local, local people work. They reinvest in the community at a higher rate. If you live in a struggling city like I do, your support may help make the difference between the business owners staying in town and packing up to move someplace with more promise. It also helps make your community cooler. Who doesn't love the charm of a strip of funky, locally owned stores?

So, go out and support yours today. Invest in your community and get unique gifts for your family and friends in the process!