There’s no shame in shopping at Home Depot, Barnes and Noble or Best Buy. Or in placing a quick online order with Amazon for those times when you absolutely need a gift delivered overnight.

We’d be lying if we didn’t occasionally shop these national chains for the convenience, the occasional big sale or simply for the wide inventory they carry.

But at the end of the day, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as shopping at a local business. And there’s nothing quite as important to the local economy as patronizing a local store.

Small businesses are the backbone of a community. They’re mostly independent firms and shops run by people who are more aligned with the community than a board of directors or a corporate mentality. These shop owners are your neighbors, someone you might run into at a PTA meeting or community gathering.

That’s the premise behind Small Business Saturday, happening this weekend on local main streets across the country. Now in its ninth year, Small Business Saturday was launched by American Express to “encourage people to Shop Small and bring more holiday shopping to small businesses,” according to the credit card company’s website.

According to a 2018 study conducted for American Express, two-thirds of every dollar spent at a small business — defined as a business with fewer than 100 employees — remains in the local community. So when you buy a book at a local shop, a coffee at a neighborhood cafe or a dress at a downtown store, you’re not only supporting that business, but you’re most likely helping the owner’s family, the charity that business sponsors and the store’s ability to hire others who live nearby.

Let’s face it: Main streets across the country are under siege from the high-volume, low-cost big-box stores. It’s not easy for a local shopkeeper to compete on that level. That’s why we see the number of storefront vacancies in our small cities and towns that we do.

But small stores, the mom-and-pop shops of America, often offer better service and a curated inventory that provides a better customer experience that is usually worth a dollar or two more.

Here in Frederick, the shop local idea starts a day earlier with Frosty Friday, a daylong kickoff to the holiday shopping season. There are dozens of things to do all day, starting with special breakfasts at restaurants and later roasting s’mores at nine locations and enjoying live music and cocktails downtown. And yes, stores and restaurants will be open early and close late. A free trolley will circulate every 15 minutes. The Downtown Frederick Partnership’s website has complete details.

No offense to the big-box stores and national chains, but this sounds a lot more interesting and fun than standing in the long lines. Shopping small makes more dollars and sense for the local economy.

Our community will benefit from your support, and you’ll be able to see the return on investment a lot sooner than if you just shopped at those big-box chains.

(23) comments

sue1955

mrnatural re your 5:45 P.M. reply to me: THANK YOU for the information! You have really educated me today. I greatly appreciate all the information and helpful hints. I also appreciate your detailed commentary on subjects. You are really thorough.

mrnatural1

You're very welcome Sue, I'm glad that my comment was helpful.

We just had a bad experience with LaserShip that is still fresh on my mind. They actually LIED to me -- three times! Once was on a recorded 3-way call with an Amazon rep. Stupid lies -- like claiming they tried to make a delivery when we were home all day!

They have no shame. Unfortunately, Amazon seems to have no plans to dump LaserShip.

If all deliveries were via LaserShip I would shop locally much more often.

sue1955

Oh, the same thing happened to me! This was with the online merchant (that I stopped using, as I stated previously) where LaserShip was used. LaserShip lied to me stating that they tried to make a delivery when I was home (as I'm virtually home all the time, but that's a moot point). A neighbor saw them speed by my residence, turned around, and sped by my place a second time. (I didn't see them because I was not looking out the window(s) at the time this happened, but was not doing anything where I couldn't hear them).

petersamuel

Editorialists, pundits, politicians, planners, alarmists and busybodies will preach all they like about how we should shop, how we should commute and whatever. People will make their own decisions, and why not?

mrnatural1

I agree with this editorial. The following is merely an explanation of why my wife and I generally do our shopping online. It is certainly not meant to discourage others from patronizing local retailers.

Shopping local is definitely preferable when possible, but it must make financial sense. I don't mind paying a bit more to support truly local merchants (as opposed to big box stores), but unfortunately, the total cost (and hassle) of buying locally is usually too great (for us). It's not just the cost of the merchandise (which may be competitive) -- when the cost of driving and the value of the time involved are included it is usually hard to justify going to a local store.

In addition, items are often not available locally, or there is a limited selection. Maybe they can be ordered, but that can take longer than buying online.

I realize that people's situations vary. We're retired and live in a semi-rural area. We can't walk to any stores. We must drive everywhere, and often a significant distance. If we go west, toward Hagerstown, traffic usually isn't too bad, and store employees are generally a bit friendlier. However, there isn't much in Hagerstown, and most stores are on the west side near I-81. If we drive east, toward Frederick, there are a few more stores, but the traffic is often terrible and the clerks tend to be more rude, or at least in a bad mood more often. I can't blame people who have a crappy retail job for hating life, but if I'm going to shop at a local store, I want the employees to be friendly (or at least polite/professional); knowledgeable; and enthusiastic about what they sell. Too often, the employee(s) are non-existent -- and if you do manage find one they are un/under trained; rude; disinterested; and/or generally act like you're bothering them. Not always, but often enough that it makes me more inclined to shop online.

Driving costs money. Many people seem to think the only cost is the fuel, when of course that's only one expense. There's also depreciation; insurance; maint.; repairs; registration, etc. That usually ads up to about $0.60 per mile -- maybe a bit less for an older, fully depreciated car, and a lot more for some expensive luxury sedans and SUVs. Then there is the time involved. Personally, I'd rather be doing almost anything other than driving on congested roads with a bunch of distracted, impatient, angry, aggressive drivers. I find it curious that while everyone wants to get paid for working -- "time is money!" -- somehow, when they aren't working, many people do not seem to value their time at all. "Sure, my commute is 100 miles (3 hours) round-trip, but I'm saving $200/month on rent!" "Driving 20 miles r/t to the store might have cost $10 and an hour and a half of my time, but I saved $8!!"

Then there are all of the potential hassles -- getting involved in an accident; getting stuck in a backup on the highway; finding parking; someone parking 6" from the driver's side of your car; waiting in line at the store, etc.

When you add up ALL the costs -- the item itself; sales tax; the cost of driving (for us that can easily be $10-$20+); and the value of my/our time -- the cost is often significantly higher than buying online. For example, we recently bought grilling basket. It was $16, delivered to our gate. It simply makes no sense for us to buy something like that locally. Even if it was cheaper -- say $10, heck, even if it was FREE -- it would end up costing us more than $16 to get it locally.

Of course supporting local merchants is important, but there are limits to what we should be expected to do and put up with.

Lastly, in most towns there are very few businesses that are actually locally owned, operated, and not corporate owned or part of a franchise. For example, if we go to Best Buy and buy something (an item we could have gotten delivered to our house) because we want to support "local" business -- how much of that total sale is actually staying in the area? The merchandise was almost certainly made somewhere else, usually China; profit margins are slim (they make more on extended warranties) and a good chunk of that small profit is going back to corporate in Richfield, MN. It will end up costing us more -- often a lot more -- and only a tiny percentage of our money will stay in Frederick.

It's kinda like Girl Scout cookies -- I'd rather just give the Girl Scouts a donation than buy some overpriced cookies and have most of the money go to the mfr. I don't know what the equivalent would be locally, but that's the idea.

Once again, the above is absolutely not meant to discourage anyone from shopping locally. It is important to support local vendors, I just wanted to explain why my wife and I rarely do. What makes sense for us might not apply to other people in other areas.

Suggestion: IDK how practical this idea is, but if local merchants would offer a delivery service they might boost their business. All else equal, I'd be willing to pay a bit more to have an item delivered from a local store, vs some anonymous online vendor -- especially if the local business had a reasonable return policy and offered advice and support.

jschmersahl

It is generally accepted that in a market economy people act in thier self intrest . But here is the important part- different people hold different views of what is in their self intrest . For some it is getting the best posiible price , avoiding crowds, traffic and hassel . For others it may be doing the most environmentally sustainable thing notwithstanding some added out of pocket cost . For some it may be supporting community merchants because in the long run they see that as being in their best intrest .This editorial was simply reminding us that shopping local helps make our towns more vital and that helps us all-- if you take the long view. I did not see any Walmart or on- line shopper shaming . Do what is best for you- this in America after all .

mrnatural1

Great comment jschmersahl.

While I sympathize a great deal with the market pressures local merchants face, I'm in the "avoiding crowds, traffic and hassle" group.

gary4books

What are you buying? That is the key question. I shop with local shops for pizza, burgers, tacos and other food items. You want a pizza from Amazon? Good luck with that. And some items are haeavy. The freight could be high for soft drinks and oher liquids. But mostly I go for a good price. Why not? Local vendors need to focus on items that are produced locally and have advantages of being fresh, local or just fast.

mrnatural1

Good observations gary.

I just bought 16 golf cart batteries for a whole-house backup power system (aka UPS). Needless to say, it made more sense to buy them locally. BTW, the folks at Battery Warehouse are great to deal with, and beat online prices for many small batteries as well.

In addition to weight, bulk can be another factor that may make shopping locally more sensible.

Something else to be aware of is that Amazon's prices are often quite high. It depends on the item, but they seem to have gotten to the point where they feel they do not have to be particularly competitive, perhaps because people -- particularly Prime members -- have gotten in the habit of going straight to Amazon, without comparison shopping. Also, in addition to reputable shippers like UPS, USPS, and FedEx, Amazon allows a sleazy operation called "LaserShip" to deliver for them. A quick search for "LaserShip complaints" will tell you all you need to know. They are so bad that the BBB only publishes 1 out of 10 complaints they receive -- because they are flooded with so many!

As you said, local merchants should focus on areas where they are competitive:

* Clothing and shoes that customers want to try on.

* Items needed in a hurry. Even Amazon cannot deliver in the time it takes to run to a store and back home.

* Products people want to handle -- like cameras, sports equipment, etc.

* Merchandise that would be expensive and/or difficult to return to an online vendor. One great example is memory foam mattresses that are shipped after being compressed and vacuum packed. Ain't no way UPS is taking a mattress, but with Costco (and presumably other stores) it's no problem -- well, assuming you can fit it in/on your car...

* Personalized, knowledgeable, face-to-face service and advice. That can be very valuable, and certainly worth spending a few bucks extra.

One last note -- it is bad karma (or whatever you want to call it) to take advantage of local merchants by asking for their professional advice, checking out/trying on items, and then turning around and buying online. Unless they are rude and/or their prices are just crazy high, you should give them your business.

sue1955

mrnatural, I didn't know that Amazon is using LaserShip sometimes. I sure hope that they don't use them for any of my future orders. Some months back, I used another merchant for some things. They used LaserShip. What a disaster. I, too, had terrible experiences with them. I soon stopped using that merchant. UPS is the way to go in my neighborhood. They are professional, have a great work ethic, and deliver right at my door.

mrnatural1

Sue,

Sadly, Amazon is using LaserShip. Here's a quote from one article:

"LaserShip, Amazon’s New Shipping Partner, Might Be the Most Hated Company on the Internet":

http://nymag.com/intelligencer/2017/09/lasership-amazons-shipping-partner-is-a-problem.html

Unlike many online sellers, Amazon refuses to tell customers (at the point of sale) which shipping company(s) will be used -- let alone give the buyer a choice of shippers and methods, as many vendors do.

There is no way to avoid LaserShip entirely, but two ways to reduce the chance of them carrying your parcels are:

* When given a choice, opt for two (2) day shipping. Apparently LaserShip is used more often for one day deliveries.

* If/when you have trouble with an Amazon shipment via LaserShip, complain to Amazon, via email. When you get a reply, do not answer "yes" or "no" at the bottom where it asks if your problem was solved. What I did was to explain in my reply that while the Amazon rep was fine, and I appreciated the credit they issued, my problem (LaserShip) remained unsolved. I had to send 1 or 2 more replies like that before I received one telling me that due to the issues I had with LaserShip, Amazon had "deprioritized" them for deliveries to our address. They explained that LaserShip might still be used, but it would be less frequent.

I agree with you about UPS. In fact, the Middletown P.O. and FedEx do a very good job as well.

FCPS-Principal

"One last note -- it is bad karma (or whatever you want to call it) to take advantage of local merchants by asking for their professional advice, checking out/trying on items, and then turning around and buying online." Ha! No way. That's the normal manner for buying clothes. And you can do that online now, too. There are several online services where you can order a boatload of clothes and return what you don't want at no charge. Amazon offers this among others.

mrnatural1

FCPS,

There's a huge difference between patronizing an online merchant that is fully aware that customers will try on items and return some of them -- and considers that a business expense (they still end up with some sales) -- and going to a local store, checking out the merchandise, trying on clothes, asking for information, recommendations, and advice, and then shopping online.

The former is expected an part of their business model, the latter is unethical.

Another way to look at it is, if people enjoy having local shops where they can inspect products and ask questions, then they should consider buying from those stores -- or they will cease to exist.

phydeaux994

I buy things from Amazon because I can’t get them locally or because the selection of most things is limited. I go on line and read the ratings of the item I’m looking for. And the one I pick is not available locally. So I go to Amazon and get exactly what I want at the lowest cost. Most things have 2 day delivery on Prime. No crowds, no hassle, delivered to your doorstep.

Dwasserba

If you are not going to see the recipients, direct free shipping is great. I do have a couple gifts I must take for shipping but it's not optimal, and I figure in that cost when I choose. The other thing is, I really don't like crowds, and online returning avoids that. I'm not a black Friday person, even when I was young. Because I was working. Parades and such to attract crowds are where I will never be, even the upsurge in church attendance makes me feel claustrophobic.

FCPS-Principal

Finally the usual annual nonsense about shopping local appears. This idiocy has been around a while. I recall when Walmarts opened the "local" businesses whined out their wazoos. Walmart had a huge variety; the locals had few choices. Walmart was open until 9 or 10; the locals closed at 5. Walmart was open Saturday and Sunday; the local were open 1/2 day Saturday. Walmart had free parking; the locals had no parking. And the big draw was that Walmart had low prices while the locals had high prices. The most hilarious part was that the locals did nothing to change the situation, other than complain more. Nothing.

DickD

If the store has what you need and it is reasonably priced, yes, shop local. I still miss Ingalls, in Middletown.

mrnatural1

Agreed Dick, Ingalls was great. [thumbup]

Frayou

Why should one be expected to pay more for a product of a small business, focus downtown, in the name of “support”? This does not make sense. One should not purchase an item costing more, if it can be purchased cheaper otherwise. It’s called competition.

FCPS-Principal

Not the mention the peace of passing the burden of traffic, traffic light gridlock, crowds and noise onto others.

public-redux

Decades ago Garrison Keillor had a wonderful riff about the socialism of small-town America. How you were supposed to buy inferior goods from local merchants at excessive prices. I remember how my parents mostly bought groceries 50 miles away at a metropolitan supermarket so they wouldn’t overspend their food budget shopping at the local village grocery store.

sevenstones1000

Having recently undergone surgery that kept me bed bound for more than five weeks, and will keep me essentially housebound for a few more months, I thank god for Amazon. I could browse and compare a number of recovery aids and home modifications I discovered I needed and have them delivered to my house the next day. Even if it were possible for me to travel to some mom and pop hospital supply shop, I would be limited to the small inventory they had on hand. Then I would need to figure out how to get the item home and up my front steps.

Mom and Pop shops are fine for unusual, handcrafted or artisanal items, from foods to clothing to home goods to gifts. But for the bulk of day to day items, it makes more sense to shop online.

FCPS-Principal

Actually Mom and Pops don't make sense for much of anything any more. They spend their profit lobbying for restrictions on the competition. And deduct the costs.

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