Shop locally: Your dollars will benefit those closest to you

I love a good deal. I love tallying up how much I save using coupons. I love watching my nest egg grow.

But I also love seeing new small businesses thrive. And I admit I struggle with how my price-obsessed self and my supporter-of-small-business self can coexist.

More often than not, I find price and convenience propels me to the closest big-box store.

Increasingly, I flip open my laptop, or even my mobile phone, to make purchases. Buying local takes more time, and I can almost always find as good a deal online.

I live near the light-rail construction and, while driving the other day, looking at empty storefront after empty storefront, I simultaneously felt excited about potential new businesses opening after the line is completed, fearful of what the neighborhood would become if mom-and-pop shops don't return, and ashamed that I don't make a point of supporting my neighborhood entrepreneurs more. What would the world be like without them?

By supporting a small business, you are supporting a neighborhood entrepreneur who is more likely to spend profits in the local community and support community causes, said Dave Brennan, co-director of the Institute for Retailing Experience at the University of St. Thomas. Small businesses are important employers, with small firms employing nearly as many workers as large firms, according to the Small Business Administration. And real estate values tend to be higher in areas with small businesses within walking distance.

With economic uncertainty plaguing us for four years now, I've thought a lot about the global nature of our woes. It can be easy for people to think that there's nothing they can do but hunker down. But I've come to realize that I do have power — the power to spend my money wisely, where and how I think it will provide the most benefit to my family and my community.

So with the holiday season nearing, I am pledging to be a more thoughtful shopper. It may mean my money doesn't stretch as far. But I'm beginning to realize that keeping my money close to home is as important — no, more important — than getting the cheapest price.

Here are some ideas:

— Shop on Small Business Saturday. This is the second year for Small Business Saturday, planned for Nov. 26 — the day after Black Friday. The event, created by American Express, is designed to help small businesses attract customers to their stores, the No. 1 challenge according to Mary Ann Fitzmaurice of American Express.

Last year, merchants that accept American Express saw a 28 percent rise in sales volume compared with the same Saturday the previous year, the credit card company said. Like last year, American Express is giving away 200,000 $25 statement credits for cardholders that shop at an American Express-accepting small business on Nov. 26. Learn more about the campaign and sign up for the statement credit:

— Head downtown to shop. Every city has a downtown worth boosting. For instance, The Preservation Alliance of Minnesota has Holidays on Main, a statewide campaign urging Minnesota residents to do three-quarters of their holiday shopping in downtown and neighborhood shopping districts around the state.

— Shop local specialty stores. Every community has unique stores with things you won't find at chain stores. Check out those spots for one-of-a-kind gifts that will delight the receiver just because they can't be found where most other people shop.

Kara McGuire is a columnist for the Star Tribune in Minneapolis.

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