Spend your money here

Whether we are ready for it or not, we are already well into the Christmas shopping season.

We had barely handed out the last piece of Halloween candy when the push began. Retailers have been hitting us with information about pre-Thanksgiving sales, Thanksgiving Day sales, Black Friday sales and Cyber Monday sales. It’s all about helping you to find that perfect holiday gift.

And, while it’s easy to get caught up in all of the hype, Tricia Maple-Damewood and Brenda Mull are asking that you make an effort to spend your holiday shopping dollars with local businesses.

“It’s important to shop local, because the small businesses are what really make up America,” explained Mull, who is president of the Weirton Area Chamber of Commerce.

Those sentiments are shared by Maple-Damewood.

“I think it’s important to try and change the mindset of local residents,” the president of the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce explained. “They don’t have to automatically go online or travel out of town when they make any purchase, especially during the holiday season.”

It’s certainly important to support our local small businesses all during the year. Money spent with local merchants makes a huge impact on our region’s economy. That’s what American Express had in mind on Nov. 27, 2010, when it launched the Small Business Saturday promotion as a way to encourage people to do more of their holiday shopping with local retailers.

The idea of Small Business Saturday, which is held the Saturday after Thanksgiving, has really caught on. According to American Express, the Senate passed a resolution supporting the day in 2011 and, by 2012, all 50 states had gotten behind the concept. Last year, more than 6,700 Neighborhood Champions had registered with the promotion.

All of that translates into some serious spending. Last year, 112 million consumers generated more than $15.4 billion in sales, according to numbers provided by the National Federation of Independent Business and American Express. Those numbers are important for local businesses.

“When we keep our dollars here, businesses invest here. It’s a circle we need to keep going,” Mull explained.

If you have any doubts about the importance of small businesses to our region’s economy, the Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy has gathered some interesting numbers.

They show, for instance, that Ohio is the home of 939,317 small businesses, and they account for 99.6 percent of businesses in the state. In 2014, they employed 2.1 million people, or 46 percent of those employed in the state. They also created 29,312 jobs.

The numbers for Pennsylvania are similar. While the commonwealth’s 1 million small businesses made up 99.6 percent of businesses, they employ 2.5 million people, or 46.8 percent of those who are employed. They helped create net job growth of 29,846.

West Virginia, meanwhile, is home to 115,673 small businesses, or 98.9 percent of businesses in the state, the SBA reports, and they employ 288,211, or 50 percent, of the workers in the state.

When you consider that each of those businesses is operated by a person who lives in your community, employs your friends and neighbors and is likely to be involved in area events and fundraising drives, there’s a simple question Maple-Damewood said area residents need to answer when they are deciding where to shop.

“You really have to ask how you can support the local businesses that support local causes and the local youth sports teams,” Maple-Damewood explained.

And, while it doesn’t hurt to think local next Saturday, Mull said area residents should make it a habit whenever they shop.

“I believe that Small Business Saturday should not be a one-day thing,” she said. “It’s something we should keep going all year round.”

Maple-Damewood said the Jefferson County chamber will be helping to promote a buy local effort on Saturday. Volunteers will be set up from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. at several local businesses to hand out shopping bags, coupons and stickers that encourage shoppers to spend their money in town.

There will be coffee and doughnuts, as well. Locations will include M&M Hardware on Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood City Center and Riesbeck’s in Toronto.

“If you try to spend a higher percentage of money locally this Christmas than you spent locally last year, that will really add up,” Maple-Damewood said.

(Gallabrese, a resident of Steubenville, is executive editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times. He is the first vice chair of the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce.)