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Editorial: To add big personality to your holiday gifts – shop small

Remember when Black Friday was an actual day – specifically the Friday after Thanksgiving?

Sales, respectfully, didn’t start until the leftover turkey, dressing and pumpkin pies had grown cold. Then, in the wee hours of the morning, die-hard holiday shoppers would head into the cold to grab up gifts at “deeper than deep” discounts.

Now Black Friday sales start popping up even before the Halloween decorations are back in the attic. Black Friday had personality when it was one crazy day. And the people who braved sleep deprivation, often freezing weather and limited quantities to get the last Cabbage Patch Kid or Playstation shared not only the thrill of the hunt and sweet victories, but also a camaraderie with their fellow Black Friday shoppers.

Today’s strung-out Black Fridays sales just don’t have the same appeal.

And, then there’s Cyber Monday – deep discounts without even having to leave the comfort of your warm home or office. But even Cyber Monday is no longer a definable day on the calendar.

Who doesn’t have an email inbox stuffed  right now with Internet deals to rival any Cyber Monday?

The lines have blurred, the days have lost their definition and holiday shopping has become a lot less fun.

But wait.

Squeezed between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, another themed shopping day is striving to become a national obsession – and this one has a personality  as unique as the shopkeepers who welcome their customers with open arms.

Small Business Saturday was founded in 2010 by American Express to bring the power of a Black Friday or Cyber Monday marketing campaign to mom and pop shops who go about the business of building community – often quietly – all year long.

Why do we love shopping with local businesses? In a word, service.

OK, let’s be honest – one word really won’t do. Because it’s not just customer service that draws small business shoppers back time and time again. It also is being able to find perfect gifts, even for difficult-to-shop-for family and friends. And, it’s about doing business with people you know, people who have chosen to put their business in your community, hire local residents and support local causes that also interest you.

It’s not uncommon for owners, or employees, of small businesses to ask, “What can I help you find?” And then listen – really listen – to what you are seeking, before replying, “I think I have just what you’re looking for” or “I think I have something Aunt Jane’s going to love.”

It’s like having a personal shopper who, oddly enough, understands Aunt Jane.

Beyond those selfish reasons to “shop small,” doing so helps the local economy.

The New Economics Foundation, an independent economic think tank based in London, compared what happens when people buy produce at a supermarket vs. a local farmers’ market and found that the money was twice as likely to stay in the community when people shopped locally.

OK, so you’re probably not going to give someone a holiday rutabaga, but the theory still holds.

By shopping at a local boutique instead of a big box store, consumers keep their communities from becoming what the NEF calls “ghost towns” (areas devoid of neighborhood shops and services) or “clone towns,” where one Main Street looks like every other Main Street.

Plus, so often it’s those small business owners that step outside their shops and take active roles in their local communities.

Think about how often you see the name of a small business listed as a sponsor of one of your favorite local events. This local paper is filled with such businesses.

West County is rich with great stores, wonderful malls, delicious eateries and trustworthy service providers. No doubt this holiday season you’re going to have the opportunity to shop, dine with and utilize more than one. But here’s hoping that on Nov. 29 – and really as often as you can – you’ll take extra care to invest in your local economy and patronize small businesses.

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