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Meador: Shopping at home for the holidays

News-Register file photo##Pictured here in this 2015 file photo Emmalea Drew helps Aiyahna Chulik-Ruff and her younger sister, Aurora, pick out Christmas presents for each other while shopping at Hopscotch in downtown McMinnville.
News-Register file photo##Pictured here in this 2015 file photo Emmalea Drew helps Aiyahna Chulik-Ruff and her younger sister, Aurora, pick out Christmas presents for each other while shopping at Hopscotch in downtown McMinnville.

Matt Meador Guest writer Matthew Meador, a former food and wine writer, is a rare moderate Republican who now writes commentary. Before turning to writing, Matt was an award-winning graphic artist who often put his skills to use during election seasons. He has served in various capacities for candidates, campaigns, pollsters and elected officials. He can be reached at www.matthewmeador.com.

 

When I was a kid, my mother applauded retailers like Nordstrom for holding off on Christmas advertising and decoration until after Thanksgiving.

Nordstrom’s 120-year-old tradition of not decking its halls prior to Thanksgiving required its staff to work quickly to get its stores suitably garnished for Black Friday. But my mother was among fans of this retail restraint.

For me, “the holidays” encompassed three occasions: Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. I never minded blending them into a two-month-long period of feasting, sharing and celebrating.

Whatever your preference, you surely are aware of the holiday season importance to retail merchants.

Many are hurting, and none more that the small and medium shops in our local towns and cities. So that’s where we need to direct our holiday spending.

Local merchants are threatened by the aggressive big box stores that have been encroaching on them for years, and now by the COVID-magnified dependence people have developed on online retail giants like Amazon and many others. Never has the menace loomed larger.

Local merchants are largely responsible for creating the unique flavor of the towns and cities they serve.

The first taste of your town a visitor is likely to receive comes from the shops lining its streets. When individuals and families consider relocating, they may well look for large retailers like Lowe’s or Walmart, but the special personality of a community stems from smaller merchants on tree-shaded streets, not big box stores fronted by massive parking lots.

We live in the heart of Oregon Wine Country, so some areas seem dominated by the wine industry. But small retailers located on downtown streets create a flavor all of its own, unique to each of our communities.

Even if your attention is tied up with work, your kids’ school activities or other concerns, you probably have a fondness for local retail and service businesses. After all, these places are owned by your neighbors and friends.

We contribute to the financial threat to those merchants every time you or I spend money with online or big box retailers.

The worst part of it is, once those quirky and colorful local merchants are gone, they won’t be coming back. At best, they’ll be replaced by slick mall retailers whose earnings are destined for big faraway cities.

Naturally, every community has people who don’t care about the many values of supporting locally owned businesses, or who prefer the well-patterned offerings of regional and national stores. Others see the importance of maintaining local retail flavor amid the bland predictability of national chains.

I’ve even heard the cynical argument that our global economy negates the need for local merchants. Whatever!

If you want to live in a mall, or in a city populated with empty storefronts, fine. But most of us would prefer the patchwork of local shops helping shape a real community — merchants who know your name, live nearby, spend their earnings in town and you see at school sporting events.

Looking at things more broadly, Amazon brought in over $108 billion in sales in the first quarter of 2021. That’s $108 billion that could’ve been spent at local merchants all over America, and the numbers are continuing to grow. One report sets Walmart’s worldwide sales at nearly $570 billion this year to date, much of that siphoning sales from local merchants around the globe.

It’s true that big-box stores contribute to the economy by employing local people, but those typically are not family-wage jobs with full benefits, and those operations typically do not contribute to their communities in similar ratios to activities of locally owned businesses.

I understand that Amazon or Walmart sometimes may be the only real choice. Take pool chlorine, for example, stocked by just two retails in our region, neither local, with Walmart offering by far the best price.

My point here is less about avoiding Walmart in particular or big box stores is general, and more about simply being mindful about where we choose to spend our cash.

If we care about our communities, we should make every effort to shop with local merchants. If more of us did, the peril facing our hometown shops would shrink dramatically.

This Christmas, consider where you spend. If you need toys for the kids, consider getting a slightly more expensive quality toy from your local toy shop rather than a giant pink, plastic, made-in-China product from a big box retailer or online behemoth.

Will you pay a little more?

Perhaps. But the shopkeeper will know your name, and maybe even those of your children. 

The clerk at the counter will remember you from the last time you came in. You’ll never have to spend 20 minutes looking for a sales associate to help you, and you’ll never encounter an associate who can’t provide an answer to your question.

Don’t be surprised to find highly competitive pricing in local shops. But even if paying a few extra dollars, the immediate pay-back will be the down-home personal service you’ll experience.

The long-term value will be more money remaining in the local economy, more local businesses participating in community and civic affairs, and color and diversity in your hometown. By shopping at local merchants, you help your community thrive in times of retail peril, which beats helping engorge giant corporations and their wealthy overlords.

However you celebrate the two-month season that’s come to be known as “the holidays,” be mindful where you spend and who you support. Now more than ever, shop local whenever you can.

CUTLINE

 

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