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Written by Olga L. Figueroa, Special to the BT   
December 2015

When you shop local, your money stays local

TPix_MyView_12-15he season of giving is upon us once again, but the retail vultures began circling long before the kids chose their Halloween costumes.

While shopping for garden supplies in early October at a local department store (no free plugs), I passed several shelves of string lights, LED figurines, and trees. Halloween and Thanksgiving have been increasingly overlooked by retailers, who favor “the holidays,” as they put it, in order not to exclude anyone with cold hard cash or plastic in his pocket.

As a result, an increasing number of us have become immune to the hype, commercialization, and exploitation of what once was our favorite holiday. I have fond memories of our family Christmases, when an array of traditions -- letters to Santa, Christmas pageants, and holiday parties -- led to the big day, which always included placing a gift or two in the chimney for effect.

The commercialization of the holidays was always there, but in recent years it’s become an assault on consumers. Retailers want to pull consumers out of their chairs on Thanksgiving, before they finish their slices of pumpkin pie, so they can get a big-screen TV or a sweater at 50 percent off. They have no respect for traditions. The sole focus is on their bottom line.

This is the ideal time to start exercising retail will power, resist vulture retailers, and support the small businesses that make our communities better.

For several years, American Express has sponsored Shop Small Saturday, the weekend after Thanksgiving, to encourage support of small businesses. But one day is not enough.

It’s time to start supporting local merchants, thrift stores, farmers markets, artisans, and resale shops year round.

First of all, small businesses, such as the hundreds that line Biscayne Boulevard, NE 125th Street, NE 163rd Street, and NE 2nd Avenue, will benefit greatly from the community’s support for the obvious reason. As these businesses thrive, so too will the surrounding neighborhoods and residents.

We, as consumers, benefit from exposure to other gift options, artwork, handmade and vintage items, not the “same old, same old” found on the shelves at department stores across the country.

A handmade ornament has far more charm and appeal than a boxed one stamped “made in China.” A framed vintage poster has more style than a print from a local department store.

Thrift stores, particularly those benefiting worthwhile causes, are a great place to find items, not just for ourselves, but those on our gift list. Items like books, frames, and decorative items are often donated in excellent condition. There’s a triple benefit when we shop these stores: the store benefits, the cause benefits, and the recipient benefits. Not to mention, the consumer benefits from savings and doing a greater good.

Farmers markets, and craft and antique markets like the ones in the Upper Eastside and at the Arsht Center are ideal places to purchase homemade, handmade, and vintage items for the people on our list.

Consignment and resale stores often stock original art and designer accessories, sometimes brand-new, for a fraction of the price of retailers.

How about giving the gift of a good time or a delicious meal? Take a friend out to lunch at an independent local restaurant. Our community offers countless options, from ethnic restaurants to quaint diners that can please the palate of everyone on your list, while giving the eateries an extra boost during the holiday season.

Many independent shops, restaurants, salons, and attractions offer gift certificates that make great gifts to introduce family and friends to our favorite haunts.

While some may argue that smaller businesses will be pricier than national retailers, they should consider where the money is actually going. The extra three dollars for an item at an independent store is staying in our community. The three-dollar savings at a department store is a result of corporate power that can overrun our small-business community, if we let it.

Just visit a shopping mall and look at the ratio of national chain stores to independently owned stores.

Look at the impact the monster discount superstores have had on small-town America. The management promises it will bring jobs to an area, but they fail to disclose that it’ll also drive mom-and-pop shopkeepers to the poor house.

Another way we can benefit the community is by donating items we no longer use or need, that are in good condition, to local nonprofits. Donations not only help them stay afloat year round, they help worthy causes and are tax deductible.

They say it’s the thought that counts. It’s time we put some thought into where we spend our money and who benefits when we shop. That’s what really counts.

 

Feeling the urge to speak up about something of interest to Biscayne Times readers? We’d like to hear from you. Contact editor Jim Mullin at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

 

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