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Choose to shop small this holiday season

On Nov. 1, I received my first email promoting Black Friday sales.

Early access! Sneak peek! Kick off your holiday shopping now! Our Black Friday event continues! 60% off everything! Your special code ends tonight! Buy now!

A cacophonous ringing of headlines and promises and promotions flooding my email every day. Amidst this, a much quieter and feel-good promotion has been shared too: Shop Small, Shop Local.

As I think about big-box stores lined up with customers waiting for the newest release and online sites flooded with customers waiting for the newest special, I can’t help but wonder: What if all those customers were flooding our locally based and independently operated businesses that call Alpena home?

In the community revitalization field, “extractive businesses” describe businesses that take more from the community than they put back in, whether it be natural, economic, physical, or cultural resources. What about businesses that give back to the community instead of just take in?

The American Independent Business Alliance published a study conducted by Civic Economics about the impact of shopping at independently owned businesses and the multiplier effect that creates.

They measured direct impact (money spent to operate the business: inventory, utilities, pay to employees), indirect impact (money spent by that business at other businesses that was then recirculated) and induced impact (money spent by that businesses’ employees and owners at other local businesses). On average, they found that 48% of each purchase at a local, independent business was recirculated locally, compared to less than 14% of each purchase at a chain store.

In other words, independently owned businesses return more than three times as much money per dollar of sales than chain competitors.

Beyond just the recirculation of money into our local economy by small businesses, what about all the intangible benefits they add to the community? What they contribute to our sense of identity, our culture?

When you shop local, you support real people in our community. Someone who may have kids in our school systems, someone who owns a home, who owns a building in our downtown. Someone who attends concerts, performances, and events, who volunteers for our community’s organizations and donates to our causes. Someone who eats at our restaurants, shops at our grocery stores, and supports our other small businesses. Not just the owner, but the employees, the vendors, the artists, and everyone who makes that business what it is.

Imagine our community without locally owned coffee shops, hair salons, grocery stores, clothing stores, restaurants, bars, a brewery, a winery, live theaters, a bike store, book stores, art galleries, florists — what would our community be?

This holiday season, before you turn to big-box stores, online shopping, or out-of-town destinations, I encourage you to try out our locally-owned small businesses first. Whether it’s a piece of art, homemade soap, homemade leather goods, a bottle of wine, a bag of coffee, a handmade wreath, a book, a gift for the home, clothing, accessories, jewelry, a gift certificate for ice cream, a meal, an art class, a theater performance, I promise you can find something for everyone on your list this holiday season within our own community.

When you shop local, you support someone’s dream. A dream formulated when someone saw our community and wanted to invest in it, share their talents, and shape its future.

Anne Gentry graduated from Brown University with a degree in comparative literature and has studied in Italy and South Australia. She is currently executive director of the Alpena Downtown Development Authority.