I’m a true believer in the value of shopping local. It’s that simple. I see only upsides to shopping locally, particularly during the holiday season, and here’s why:

Handcrafted, curated shopping experiences.
I recently went online, late in looking for a warmish sweater for my Mom’s 98th birthday. I thought it would be quick and easy, but 50 minutes later, all I had were a bunch of tabs on my computer representing the sea of stuff that I’d clicked on and a bit of a headache.

The next day, I dashed out on my lunch hour to find a gift. The beautiful fall day, the fresh air, people out and about and lovely window displays immediately changed shopping for my mom’s gift to enjoyable rather than a chore. I perused items that local merchants, passionate about their choices, have spent months carefully selecting and displaying. I found a sweater of just the right weight, added the blouse it was displayed with and paid no more than I was looking at online. As I walked back, my present wrapped perfectly in a gift box, I experienced, once again, the absolute difference between clicking on stuff and actually hand-selecting an item.

This holiday season, we will all be bombarded with thousands of items to buy online. If you’re like me, the season can start to feel like it’s just about buying stuff rather than an experience to enjoy. My answer is the same as it was on that fall day: When you find yourself walking through beautifully festive small towns and shopping in local stores with curated items, gift buying becomes an engaging, intentional experience. And if you are a Black Friday shopper, shop a small town on that day. What you will discover is not a rush against the throngs for tables piled high with discounts, but rather relaxed shopping amongst beautifully displayed and handpicked merchandise at Black Friday discounts. Black Friday can be joyful, relaxed and still save you money? Absolutely.

The money stays here.
It matters where your holiday dollars end up. First of all, our small businesses are the employers in our region. I don’t really know how many employees Amazon has, but few, if any of them, live here or pay taxes here. Every holiday dollar you spend locally contributes to employing people in our region and insuring the health and wellbeing of families and communities. Beyond that, your shopping dollars spent locally go toward paying the taxes to keep our schools, roads and public services functioning.

But you can’t talk about money staying in the region through local purchasing without speaking of donations. If you have a child in school, participate in a nonprofit effort or go to a church, the financial commitment made by our small businesses can’t be lost on you.

My kids have sold untold ads to local businesses for the yearbook and drama production playbills and not once have I seen an ad from Amazon or L.L. Bean. I have attended and helped organize lots of fundraisers and silent auctions for regional nonprofits. The tables are full of items donated by local businesses and not one time have I seen items donated from Overstock or Pottery Barn. It is local businesses that buy seats at our fundraising events and chip in to be sponsors. I have never sat next to someone from Williams and Sonoma or Title Nine at a local fundraiser. I’m sure these online and national organizations donate, but not to the needs, successes and opportunities in our communities.

Your holiday dollars come back through our businesses’ commitment to community. As you hand over your credit card to a local merchant this holiday season, stop a moment to picture those dollars winging their way right back into the things that matter, every day, to our towns, our nonprofits, schools and churches. Not only will you walk away with the perfect gifts, you can feel confident you have just truly made a difference.

It really is available here.
One Christmas, swamped with work and life, I bought games and toys for our four kids online. We were inundated with catalogs including items I thought were unique. It was easy to turn down corners and order online, until one of the orders didn’t come. I was on the phone several times with a call center but finally had to accept that I was just not going to get the delivery in time. I went downtown one evening in earnest and I’m telling you, I found every item I’d ordered right here in Northern Michigan, sometimes making slightly different choices when advised by energized staffers. I paid either the same cost as online or less and it was all gift wrapped for free! Since then, I’ve made it a habit to locally source things in catalogs and have found my toy store experience repeated again and again. So will you.

How much is “easy” worth?
Okay, I concede that it is awfully easy to “Buy with one click” and voilà, the new robots in Amazon warehouses can now make sure your item is shipping in 19 minutes instead of the previous 42. But next time your finger is poised, ask yourself, how does that moment of buying something instantly stack up? Does that “easy” click preserve a vibrant, small town, ensure the health of local nonprofits and schools, support employment for your community and provide an engaged shopping experience as you intentionally shop with your recipient and your community in mind?

Use it or lose it.
Most of us would agree that our intact, unique towns help to make this region outstanding. It’s increasingly rare in the world that you can shop for a sweater, get a haircut, have a bite to eat and go to a movie, all without ever getting back in your car. We feel the richness of that experience viscerally, rooted I think, in a sense of belonging to a community even for that day, and of interacting face-to-face with people who care about what they are offering.

Our ability to experience this sense of community thrives if our merchants, restaurants and small businesses thrive. We have all seen what it looks like when small towns begin to fade away. The sense of loss is profound, not just because we’ve lost those local places to run into as needed. The sense of loss goes much deeper, to the root of what makes community work and why so many seek out that in this region.

I really have no idea where the money goes when spent online with big box merchants and online-only retailers. All I know is that none of it goes to sustaining the health and vitality of the small towns we all value. It’s all of us who care about our small towns and intact downtowns who are the keepers of a life lived differently, including the amazing gift of living, working, visiting and playing in our unique and vibrant small towns. And as has been true for millennia, healthy commerce is key to the health of a town.

So, this season, as you drive through our towns, maybe believing they will always be there, take a moment to consider where your holiday dollars will go. From gifts to Christmas lights to a locally raised turkey, every single thing you buy locally has value beyond the purchase and can ensure our towns are here for generations to come.

This Editor’s Note is featured in the November 2016 issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine. Get your copy here!

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Photo(s) by Angela Brown