Shopping with a purpose
Originally published 2013-12-05
Black Friday. Shop Local Saturday. Cyber Monday.
And, now, Brown Thursday?
Yes, the Thanksgiving-related kick-off to the "holiday shopping season" draws a lot of attention every year. Retailers go to great lengths to out-do one another, in search of every ounce of boost they can get to their bottom lines during these few weeks which can make-or-break their entire year.
I get that. And I don't really have a problem with all the hype. You see, when it comes right down to it, newspapers are basically in the retail business, too. Competing for eyeballs, trying to carve revenue out of content — be it 50 cents for that week's pages, or a few cents per on-line click. And, we all rely on advertisers — most of whom are in one form of retail business or another — to pay the tab on pretty much all that we do.
Others find this almost ritualistic annual shopping frenzy contemptible. Christmas, of course, isn't supposed to be about the presents. Consumerism to them is a dirty word.
I get this too, being the type of person who is not known to have the "latest and greatest" of anything, has an inherent distaste for debt, and doesn't think, like some conservative catholics do, that the Pope should be ex-communicated for bringing up the inequities that slip through the cracks of capitalism.
The kick-off to the holiday shopping season is much different in the Gunnison Valley. With the exception of Wal-mart — which I was told was crazy busy late on Thanksgiving night — we don't really do Black Friday. And our Shop Local Saturday is really this weekend, with the chamber of commerce's annual Gunnison Greenback exchange.
One thing that does ring true here, as it does on a broader level, is the competition locally owned, home town stores are increasingly facing from on-line retailers. We've all seen by now the images of Amazon.com's monumentally-sized warehouses, filled with row upon row of stuff. And now Jeff Bezos wants to deliver that stuff to our homes with drones.
It's a brave new world in retail. Trying to halt this "progress" is a fool's game. I won't even go there, with the exception of fighting for a level sales tax playing field. For an online retailer to make the argument that they should only pay sales tax to a state in which they have a physical presence is baloney, in my view.
The bigger issue to me, by a long shot, is that local businesses are in so many ways the backbone of our community. I won't pretend I never shop online. I do. Did once this year, in fact. Bought a running pack that I might have been able to get at Rocky Mountain Gear (formerly Borealis), back before Rick gave us all the bird and closed up shop in a fit of finger-pointing.
But what I won't do is, say, go try on a pair of running shoes at Treads 'n' Threads or Gene Taylor's, find the ones that fit, and then go on-line to hunt for a cheaper price. Why? It's not that price doesn't matter. Of course it does. It's because the next time our arts center is having a gala, or the booster club is soliciting donations, or Partners, our youth mentoring organization, is raising funds, it'll be our local businesses that step up and pitch in.
No offense to them, but on-line retailers do nothing to support local communities in that everyday, down-on-the-ground kind of way.
A few years ago I had the good fortune to sit down with Tom and Kathy Rais as they were announcing that, after 40 years, they were retiring from Mario's. Probably their greatest memory of that incredible run was of all the Gunnison kids they enabled to get their first taste of earning money; of all the Western State students they helped pay their way through college.
That's how local businesses support local communities, not to mention that they help pave our streets, provide law enforcement and fire protection, and pay for our public schools. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.
So, this weekend as the local shopping season really kicks in, I hope these are among the factors you'll consider when spending your hard-earned money. I'd also like to remind you of a fun, little contest we've drummed up. There's $1,000 worth of Gunnison Greenbacks up for grabs to those who support local businesses. See last week's newspaper, or the Chamber ad on page B7 in this edition, or call me at 641.1414 for details.