It’s that time of year again. People are stocking up on mountains of food in preparation for Thanksgiving. Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, and (for this vegetarian) portobello mushroom wellingtons are filling people’s minds as they mentally prepare themselves for the giant production that is meant to be a day of being thankful. I’m guilty of it, too. We have our menu planned and the groceries were purchased today. Not only are people concentrating on their grocery lists, but they’re also compiling their Christmas shopping lists. They search through the Black Friday sale advertisements for Target, Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Toys R Us, and others, searching for the perfect gift for so-and-so and where they can get the best deal on it.
We get so caught up in the idea of getting a “deal” on Black Friday that we tend to forget a lot of things. To many of us, saving a few dollars on the latest toy for our child is worth waking up at the ass-crack of dawn on Black Friday, or more commonly today, forgoing time with our families on Thanksgiving evening. I understand that money is tight for most people these days, I certainly know it is for me. But I’m not willing to endure the insanity that is Black Friday just so I can buy the latest gadget for my brother at a discount. We forget that there are other options, and I admit that I, too, had forgotten until last year. Large chain retailers can afford to pay for commercials, radio ads, and flyers for every household so they can blast us with information regarding their steep discounts. Small retailers and non-profits can’t, so they tend to be forgotten.
For Christmas 2011, I made a goal for myself to spend at least 75% of my gift budget at small businesses or non-profit organizations. Being so used to purchasing from Amazon and Target, I surprised myself when I did better than 75%. Closer to 90% of my budget went to support small, independent retailers and businesses. I felt really good about the gifts I gave, too. I purchased fabric and supplies from my mom’s quilt shop and I made insulated lunch bags for my friends Erin and Mo and my brother, Evan. I then went to a small gift shop in Mt. Horeb, about 25 minutes from my home, to purchase a variety of salsas to put in Evan’s lunch bag since he loves salsa. They were all locally made using locally-grown produce. I purchased a gift certificate for my brother, Nicholas, for a non-profit historical movie theater near his home in Menlo Park, CA. He and my sister-in-law, Cynthia, enjoyed the Wurlitzer organ at the end of the show. I purchased hand-spun yarn made from scraps from the factories in India where silk saris are made. I used it to knit a scarf for my sister-in-law.
We need to stop getting caught up in the glamorization of Black Friday being a contest to see who can save the most money or get the best deal, just hours after sitting around a table with our loved ones, sharing a meal and talking about how thankful we are for what we already have. I remember seeing a photo of two people sitting in a tent outside of a Best Buy in Madison on the WEDNESDAY before Thanksgiving last year, just so they could ensure they would get in on whatever “limited quantity deal” that was being offered. These people skipped the entire Thanksgiving holiday to sit in a tent outside of a store.
I’m not perfect when it comes to shopping small and local, but I’m much better than I used to be. This year, I’m hoping to spend 100% of my Christmas gift-giving budget with small businesses and non-profits, because I personally feel that my neighbors, friends, and family members need my dollar more than the Walton family of Wal-Mart. I encourage you to, as much as you can, explore your communities and the communities around you to find small businesses. You might be surprised by what’s being offered so close to your home by so many independents. I know I have been. Although it’s an on-going experiment of sorts for me to readjust my way of thinking about where and from whom I buy things, I feel much better knowing that when we get our yogurt from the Paris family of Sugar River Dairy or buy a CSA share from the Dickson family of Christensens Farm or have lunch with Jim at the M&M Cafe, our money is going straight to them. I know their faces and their names and I can wave to them when I see them on the street or bump into them at the grocery store. In return, one of the owners of Sugar River Dairy shops at my mom’s quilt shop for her quilting supplies and Jim at the M&M Cafe offers lunch specials for quilters who come to the store for special events. We support each other in whatever ways we can and it helps build a strong sense of community.
You may be thinking to yourself that I sound very high and mighty in this post. While I may come off that way, it’s not at all how I feel. I simply feel passionate about supporting our small businesses and I want to do what I can to spread information to my friends and family about how important these businesses are to our communities. Oftentimes, small business owners take home no pay because their employees and bills need to be paid first. They put in long hours, many working 7 days per week. They donate whatever they have left to silent auctions for the local library or arts organization. They organize community events to collect food and money for the local food pantry when they hear its shelves are bare. Show them how much you appreciate the value they add to your community by shopping with them, not only during the holiday shopping season, but by making it a habit to shop with them year-round. They may not be able to sell you the items you want at 40% off, but they will do everything they can to make your experience with them worth spending the few extra dollars. They will learn your name and use it to greet you when you walk in the door. They will ask how your father is doing, knowing he’s been ill. They will ask you how the new training is going with the dog since she got on the dining room table and ate your hearing aid (this is a true story, by the way. One of our customers has a new puppy who has figured out how to get on the table).
These are the people I choose to support however I am able because I know how passionate they are about their work and just how much of themselves they put into their businesses.
The Saturday after Thanksgiving (yes, that’s the day after Black Friday) is Small Business Saturday. American Express began the movement in 2010 and it has taken off over the last two years, drawing attention from over 100 million Americans, including celebrities, professional athletes, politicians both Republican and Democrat, and even drawing President Obama out of the White House to take his daughters to an independent book store in Washington D.C. It’s expected to be even bigger this year. I hope you’ll all join me in shopping with the small business (or businesses!) of your choice that day. I know from first-hand experience how much it means to small business owners and employees. Don’t trust what I have to say? Here are some more reasons why shopping small is important.
Happy Thanksgiving to you all. Spend time with your families and friends and enjoy the wonderful parts of the season 🙂