shop locally and save the world!

Aughh! The holiday season is upon us! The holiday season is upon us! Run! Hide! Be a bear and sleep until springtime! Put away your firearms! Overly self-medicate! Make your list and check it twice! Three times! No, not three times! There’s no time! Get to the mall! Overnight special delivery! It’s already too late! Never shop at a store that doesn’t gift-wrap. Intravenous slow-drip double-espresso. A motorcycle to weave in and out of traffic. With a trailer to tow all your goodies back home with you. You forgot a shawl for Aunt Gertrude! If only you had taken up knitting, last year, when going through this same insane duststorm experience, you could have knitted everyone mittens. That would have been … so … quaint … Ahhhh … But now it’s too late! Just get a gift card!!! Aughhhhh!!!!!

Thanksgiving is this Thursday, which means that the next day is … THE BUSIEST SHOPPING DAY OF THE YEAR!

Once upon a time, the holidays were less hectic. Maybe they can be less hectic again?

Blessed, or cursed, with an inability to withstand parking lot traffic, I, mostly for selfish survival reasons, tend to do most of my holiday shopping at a downtown near you. Any downtown will do, really. Park on the outskirts, walk around for a bit, making mental notes as I go, then sweep through specifically chosen stores on my way back to the car. Repeat if necessary.

Is shopping “locally” more expensive? Probably, even though it shouldn’t be. Either way, though, it’s tough to put a price on sanity. And in that way, I’ve always felt that shopping locally is already money well spent. 

Because it’s always nice to find fodder that agrees with a pre-held position, I was happy to come across Stacy Mitchell’s and Laury Hammel’s “Regional business leaders: On Black Friday, “go local” instead” post this past weekend.

“For many Americans,” Hammel and Mitchell note, “Black Friday has come to epitomize all that’s gone wrong with this season of gift-giving and the long hours we’ll spend in the coming weeks negotiating traffic jams, crowds, and the endless aisles of big-box stores.” Indeed, it’s tough to keep that holiday cheer when you’re wrestling your way through hundreds of other folks just like yourself, all looking for their own version of holiday gift glory.

Of course, few of us, I imagine, actually look forward to this sort of holiday mall experience. But, unfortunately, because of zoning laws, time constraints, and so forth, it remains a better option for many people. Plus, during this time of economic recession, when so many businesses rely on the holiday push, don’t we have a(n almost) patriotic duty to help spur on the struggling economy by spending more?

Not necessarily. “Even if you spend less this season, by shifting your shopping to locally owned businesses, you’ll actually create more jobs here [in your community] … than if you shop only at chains and online retailers,” note Hammel and Mitchell. “Spending a dollar at a locally owned business creates about three times as much economic activity and more jobs in the region than spending that same dollar at a chain store.”

Huh. That’s pretty nice. Instead of spending $100 online or at a big-box store, spend $40 downtown, and give yourself the satisfying gift of knowing that you just did more to save the world, and for less money. Can this really be true? Apparently yes.

The website Sustainable Connections lists several reasons to shop locally, from reducing environmental impact and creating better jobs, to getting better service and keeping communities unique.

Protecting the unique sense of place that various communities offer is one of the key goals of the shop-locally-on-the-Friday-after-Thanksgiving movement known as Plaid Friday. Begun last year in Oakland, CA, Plaid Friday “celebrates the diversity and creativity of independent businesses.” And wants to bring “back the neighborly nostalgic times when shopping for friends and family was a pleasurable and leisurely activity.” (They have a lot of work to do.)

Holiday shopping as leisurely? That is nostalgic indeed.

It is, of course, difficult to find “the right gift” for everyone you might shop for. But by shopping locally, you will at least be giving a gift to your community, and yourself. And this Thanksgiving, that is reason enough to be thankful.

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