Saturday, December 27, 2014

The importance of shopping local

Now that Christmas has come and gone for another year, we are faced now with the ever-popular Boxing Day or more accurately, Boxing Week sales.  From what I have seen so far, people are out there looking for the best deals on things they often don't really need to begin with.

I admit I did partake of a little Boxing Day shopping myself today, as I had some time to spare in the afternoon, and yes, I came away with a couple of things, although what I really went shopping for had nothing to do with an after-Christmas sale at all.

One year ago today, we lost our dear cat Pia, who had not been well for some months, and she bravely made it through Christmas, succumbing to her illness on the 27th.  It was a tragic loss, yet it was tempered almost immediately afterwards by the return of our little black cat, Shalom, who had gone missing 17 days previously, surviving somehow out in the winter weather last December before returning home.

So today, I wanted to find a nice photo frame for a special picture of Pia in order to commemorate the anniversary, and I found just what I was looking for.  It wasn't on sale, and that was not the point.  I wanted that for today and I had the time to go out and find it; it just happened to be on Boxing Day.

The Christmas shopping season has been by all accounts a good one for most merchants I have spoken to; not spectacular, but certainly respectable.  It is tough here in Niagara as we are so close to the border and even with a weaker Canadian dollar, many in Niagara still cross the border to shop stateside, especially for the holidays.

So how about you?  Did you cross the border once, twice or maybe more?  Did you stay here in Niagara and visit one of our major malls or newer outlet malls for your Christmas shopping?

This year, I decided to buck the trend and follow a different path.  I avoided every mall and outlet mall for my Christmas shopping in order to concentrate my purchases at smaller, locally-owned and operated businesses I tend to count on the rest of the year.

The reason for this is quite simple.  Over time, you develop relationships with these merchants, and that means they will often go that extra mile to make sure you are completely satisfied with your purchases not only at Christmas but any time of the year.

A couple of Saturdays ago, for example, I spent most of my afternoon after I finished work strolling the shops in downtown St. Catharines and came away with some really unique and clever gifts for the holidays.  Oh sure, I bought a pair of shoes at The Boot Shop for me, but that's okay.  That particular day they were reducing prices by 25%, with savings from those sales being donated to the YWCA in Niagara.  I didn't need the shoes quite yet, but knew I would eventually, so why not do it when I can get a better deal and the money I save goes to help others who really need it in the community?

This is what I love about shopping local:  you see the results right here in the community.  I help to support a local business, and they in turn do their part to help others in the community.  You don't always get that with a national chain no matter where it is located.

Another stop on my downtown shopping excursion was at a Pop-Up store on St. Paul Street operated by a local Artisan Collective, showing many one-of-a-kind gift ideas at very fair prices.  The shop, located next to Rise Above, was only in operation for about 10 days in December but the crowds when I was there that weekend suggested to me this sort of a collective mindset could actually gain widespread support in the area if it is marketed properly.

The following Saturday I visited several businesses around St. Catharines and Thorold where I knew I would find some interesting things, and I was not disappointed.  Not one of them was a national chain.  For the record, here is a partial list of businesses I visited on that excursion:  Henderson's Pharmacy in Thorold; Your Deli and St. Joseph's Deli on Facer Street; Della Terra on Martingale Road; Bamboo Natural Food Market on Martingale Road; The St. Catharines Farmer's Market; and The Guilty Burger on St. Paul Street.

Sure, I could have just parked the car at the mall and walked indoors from store to store, and I admit I do that when the mood strikes me.  But this year, I wanted to do something different.  I wanted to shop local and support smaller local businesses so they'll still be there for me in the New Year.

It has been said if everyone just spent $10 dollars locally the local economy would benefit immeasurably.  It is not that difficult to do, so if you have not tried it yet, what is holding you back?

I am quite frankly tired of hearing people brag about their super deals from over the border, for example, including most of their groceries on a regular basis, yet these same people will complain there is not the selection of stores here at home to interest them.  Or they say prices are way lower over there.

Okay, I agree, prices are often lower over there, though not always.  But have you considered why?  The minimum wage is lower in the States for one thing, and worker's benefits are usually better in Canada, which is a cost the business owners here have to shoulder moreso than over the river.

A funny thing happens when you don't support local businesses:  they eventually close and often are not replaced by new businesses.  You can't have it both ways; you have to support local businesses so they will be there when you need them.  Otherwise, a community suffers through lack of tax revenue and that affects services you and I really count on.

I don't want to get preachy here, but even if you diverted a small amount of your out-of-market shopping to shopping local, we would all benefit.  A pipe dream?  Let's hope not.

I want our local businesses to not only survive but to prosper.  To do that, I have to show them I support them not only at Christmas time but throughout the year.  It just makes good economic sense.

If you are looking for a New Year's resolution worth making and keeping this week, this would be a good place to start.

Happy New Year!

December 27th, 2014.

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