Main Streets Matter: Shop Local This Holiday Season

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a snowy small town street for shopping with holiday decorations

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Forget the Internet and the mall. Show support for innovative, independent local business owners instead. It's a win-win situation for all.

If you have not yet finished your holiday shopping — or, like me, haven't even started it — then I would like to suggest a challenge. This is what I’m planning to do, and it would be lovely if more people joined in.

Forget about Internet shopping. Put down your credit card and phone. Close the browser window that’s open to Amazon, eBay, and the like. Put on your boots and coat. Don't go to the mall. Go, instead, for a walk. Head to the main street of your town or city, where glowing shop windows are decorated and lit up for the season. Perhaps there is a Christmas tree somewhere, carols piping softly from a speaker.

Grab a cup of hot cider from an independent coffee shop and let it warm your hands. Relax. This is supposed to be fun, not stressful. This is a time to savor.

Step into a store. Exchange greetings with the store owner. Maybe you already know them. Is it a neighbor or a parent from your kids’ school? Take a look around. Tell the staff person what you’re looking for. Remember, this is their job. They can point out great ideas you might never notice.

Find a unique, lovely, and affordable gift for a family member — something that you can examine up close, touch and feel, knowing exactly what you’re getting. All your questions will be answered on the spot: “Where is this made? How was it made? Can you tell me anything about this company?”

Hand over your money. Place it in the hands of the individual at the cash. Remember, this person lives within your own community. He or she has worked tirelessly to open this business — maybe it’s been a lifelong dream of theirs — and to keep it afloat in an unpredictable economy. This person dedicates long hours to sourcing products, stocking shelves, changing window displays, and fending off competition from the big box stores down the road.

This person is grateful to you for your business because it makes a difference, unlike the giant retailers who also want your business but for whom your dollars are mere drops in the ocean. This person relies on your purchase to pay staff, to cover rent, to put food on the table, to pay off a house, to buy a new snowsuit for a child.

There is no shipping to pay, even less packaging to throw away. You put the item in your bag, and continue down the street, stopping to look in the windows of the beautiful little shops that make the downtown core so attractive. Follow your interest, your intuition, your curiosity. Find unusual things, selected from carefully curated collections by people who care and know the industry well. Buy according to what’s available, rather than reaching to the far ends of the Earth.

Wrap the gifts with care. Place under the tree, and see your family’s faces light up with delight at the lovely presents they find there. Tell people where you shopped. Promote the stores, encourage others to go there, spread the word.

Feel satisfied about the fact that you’ve redirected your own hard-earned money into the hands of other hard-working local business owners. Your town may do better as a result, perhaps drawing yet more shoppers as its reputation for interesting shops spreads. Maybe your own financial position will improve over the long-term.

If there’s a problem, it’s likely you’ll be able to exchange items easily. These storeowners will listen to what you have to say, offering you a refund or an exchange. You won’t have to spend long minutes on hold, pleading with a representative or fighting with online forms to get your money’s worth.

I intend to do all of my holiday shopping downtown, and I hope you’ll join me, too.

(Alternatively, seek out artisan markets, pop-up Christmas markets, or craft shows, such as the One of a Kind Show in Toronto. Go to where the privately owned, small-scale vendors congregate, and let your dollars demonstrate their support for their creativity.)