It’s important to shop local

We are faced with many choices when it comes to spending our money, especially this time of year, when the Christmas shopping season is ready to hit its full stride.

With that in mind, it’s important to remember the impact that spending can have on the local economy. That’s the message Tricia Maple-Damewood and Brenda Mull are hoping reaches area residents.

“I don’t think the average person understands what an impact it can have if you continually spend money on everyday things outside of our area,” said Maple-Damewood, president of the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce.

She and Mull, president of the Weirton Area Chamber of Commerce, say it’s important to shop with local merchants every day, but there’s an emphasis placed on supporting hometown businesses this time of year, when we’re all looking for that perfect gift or addition to our wardrobe.

“I think shopping local has got to be a priority for the chamber, and we need to encourage supporting local businesses as much as we can,” Damewood-Maple explained. “At the chamber, we encourage it year round, but we especially try to promote it during the holidays.”

It’s important for established businesses, and it shows those who are considering bringing their shops to town that residents of the region are willing to support them.

“Shopping local keeps your dollars local,” Mull said. “That allows your community to grow and be successful. Dollars spent locally also allow businesses to support one another while encouraging other businesses to locate in your community.”

The spotlight will shine on local businesses around the country later this week, during Small Business Saturday, which has grown in popularity since American Express started to promote it on Nov. 27, 2010.

It’s a day to celebrate and support small businesses for all they do for their communities, the U.S. Small Business Administration said about the shopping day that falls the Saturday after Thanksgiving, between Black Friday and Cyber Monday. According to American Express, an estimated $85 billion has been spent at independent retailers and restaurants on Small Business Saturdays since the day was first designated. American Express said there are more than 7,200 Neighborhood Champions, people and organizations around the country who have organized events and activities associated with the day.

“It’s a way to remind area residents to try and knock people off of their gift list at a local store before they go online or out of town,” Maple-Damewood said.

Statistics show that 90 percent of consumers surveyed said Small Business Saturday has had a positive impact on the community.

And, American Express reported that last year 108 million consumers said they shopped at local, independently owned businesses on Small Business Saturday.

Once again, the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce is gearing up for a busy weekend. It will have five buy local stations set up around the county from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday. At each, chamber volunteers will be handing out fresh coffee, shopping bags, stickers and T-shirts to promote local holiday shopping.

And in Weirton, the chamber will present the city’s annual Christmas parade at 6 p.m. Saturday. It will come at the end of a day of activities in and around the city’s downtown area, including the return of the popular ice sculptures.

Parades and other promotions, like the Nutcracker Village and Advent Market at Historic Fort Steuben in Steubenville, help to bring people into town, and that means there’s more money likely to be spent throughout the community.

That said, Maple-Damewood stresses that it’s not enough for people who own local businesses to open the doors and wait for area residents to come to their stores.

“The flipside of the whole buy-local issue is that small businesses can’t just expect people to shop with them because they are local,” Maple-Damewood explained. “Even though they are in a small town, they need to work on customer service, offer a selection of goods and services people want and offer a clean and comfortable place to shop.”

Those basics help the businesses and the community.

“If merchants and people continue to do better, we can increase the amount of money that is spent during the year, especially at Christmas,” Maple-Damewood added.

Both chamber presidents emphasize that while there’s a lot of attention paid to shopping locally this time of year, it’s important at any time.

“Small Business Saturday is coming up, and we encourage everyone to shop local,” Mull said. “But shopping local should be a year-round venture. Local businesses, small or otherwise, create successful communities throughout the country. If we didn’t support our local businesses, our communities wouldn’t thrive or survive.”

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