Yes, it's nearly that time of year again: Holiday Season.
For most, these words bring up feelings of nostalgia: Admiring the pretty, twinkling lights everywhere you look; decorating the tree while jamming out to your favorite Christmas Classics on Pandora; spending time with family and friends around a table of delicious food and then slipping into a food-coma afterwards because you ate way too much.
But for others, these two words have the power to trigger a full-on panic attack. Even the most seasoned shoppers can admit that entering a jam-packed mall or mega-store to compete in Survival of the Fittest - Holiday Edition, is no cakewalk.
Instead of enduring the never-ending crowds at chain stores this holiday season, why not shop local? After all, your hometown mom and pop shops are what holiday nostalgia is made of - just ask Hallmark.
What Does It Mean To Shop Local?
"If Wal-Mart is five miles from my house, is that shopping local?" No, not really. The Shop Local Movement has grown in popularity over the years because it showcases how important it is to support the small, independent/family-owned businesses we tend to overlook due to chain stores, like the Wal-Marts and Targets of the world. While we have nothing against those stores (trust us, we enjoy a good Target trip every once in a while), we find it more rewarding and fun to shop locally - especially during the holiday season. Here's why:
1. You Support Your Local Economy
According to the American Independent Business Alliance (AIBA), when you shop local, approximately 48% of the cost of your purchase is recirculated back into the local economy. When you shop at a chain store, that number drops to only 14%. Instead of taking your hard-earned dollars to a billion-dollar chain store, think about how beneficial it would be to invest them in your local economy and help support to a small business owner's family.
2. You Aid Local Job Growth
According to a study by Michigan State University, small local businesses are the largest employers nationally, creating two out of every three new jobs, and employ 52 percent of the nation's employees. Since 2003, small businesses have added 5.1 million new jobs to the economy. So when you shop local, you create job stability for current employees in your community, as well as opening the door for more local hiring opportunities. A new job is something to celebrate any day, but especially around the costly holiday season.
3. You Help Local Artists and Vendors Get Exposure
Small communities are often full of artists and vendors who can't afford shop space until their business takes off, so they'll partner with local businesses to sell their products at a storefront. So when you shop local, you give those craftspeople the exposure and funding they need to grow their business. Picture giving grandma the gift of a handmade wreath, jewelry, or that smelly-good homemade soap this Christmas - she'll feel extra special knowing you got her something personalized that just can't be found anywhere else!
4. You Get Healthier & More Tasty Food Options
Did you know that fruits and vegetables contain the most nutrition when they are ripe? According to Greenopedia, a healthy food blog, shortly after being picked, fruits and veggies' sugars begin to convert to starch, cells begin to shrink, and overall nutrients begin to diminish. This means that by the time they travel across the country to your table, they're depleted of the key nutrients they once had if bought at peak freshness from a local farmers market or supermarket. When you shop and eat locally, you're getting a healthier and tastier version of the same product found at a chain store. Believe your belly will thank you this Christmas when you're indulging in a big, juicy ham, fresh from the farm up the road.
5. You Get Personalized Service & Products
One of the biggest perks of shopping local are the unique, hand-crafted items you come across. Small business owners don't build their own business from scratch just for kicks - they do it because they are passionate about keeping their products and services exclusive to their community. Many times, small business owners are able to craft and personalize a product just for you - a service that really comes in handy around the holiday season when you're searching for one-of-a-kind gifts for the special people in your life (cue grandma's face when she sees her handmade wreath).
6. Area Farmers & The Environment Will Thank You
Local farmer's markets are found to have a positive effect on total agricultural sales across the country, according to EcoWatch, an environmental news outlet. Plus, the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA) advises that because food in the U.S. travels an average of 1,500 miles to get to your plate, requiring large amounts of fossil fuels to be used causing air pollution and trash buildup from extra packaging, it's actually more environmentally friendly to shop for your food locally. So every time you support your local farmers markets or grocer, the farmers will thank you. An added bonus is being able to personally thank the farmer who grew your food - a little gratitude goes a long way during the holiday season!
7. Area Charities Will Thank You
The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) conducted a survey last year and found that 75 percent of small business owners donate some portion of their profits — about 6 percent on average — to charitable organizations each year. Many times, those charities are right in your community. So every time you shop local, a portion of your dollars may also be donated to a local charity, especially helpful during the holiday season.
8. You Get the Best Customer Service
When you buy local, you get the perk of seeing your salesperson in face-to-face, to help you with future orders or to customize an order you've already placed with them. With many chain stores, you won't get that level of customized, tailored-to-you service. You may be directed to an online portal or phone recording, warning you that hold times are "longer than usual," which is enough to make you want to throw your phone at the wall, and you don't need that kind of stress in your life during the holidays...or ever. In addition, many local business owners have personal connections between each other, allowing them to get you exclusive deals and advice for other needs you may have - and who doesn't love a good deal during the holiday season?
Food For Thought
If all of these (awesome) points weren't enough to convince you to shop local not only during the holiday season but year 'round, consider this: Put your money where your home is. Whatever you consider to be "home" - a cozy one bedroom apartment, mom and dad's guesthouse, or the place you spent years saving up for and finally own - put your money there. You live in a community full of hidden gems that need your support. Help grow your community by shopping local and give the hard-working small business owners in your town the opportunity to thrive.
Sources: American Independent Business Alliance, Michigan State University: Center for Community & Economic Development, Greenopedia, EcoWatch, Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Food, U.S., Small Business Administration