Small shops: Big impact

Originally published in The Globe December 3, 2013

Black Friday and its Internet accomplice Cyber Monday are known as the most depraved times of the year for the human spirit. The day after families come together to celebrate what they’re thankful for, they’re pushing over old ladies in Target to buy the last pair of Beats headphones. Now, consumerism can’t even wait until the dishes are done as stores are opening their sales and doors on Thanksgiving Day.

The days following Thanksgiving have been mocked across all media, labeled as soulless and inhuman and heralded as a sign our consumerist culture has gone to the dark side, to the point where a death toll the day after is expected.

But as people stampeded malls, overfilled digital shopping carts and otherwise degraded themselves for bargains this holiday weekend, some took time to clean up their act and participate in the shining beacon of hope that is Small Business Saturday.

Multinational credit card company American Express began the consumerist holiday in an ironic marketing move. This relatively new shopping holiday falls between Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The idea behind it was to “help small businesses be heard and found during the biggest shopping season,” according to Forbes.

Though it is clear that small businesses needed the shout-out amid the superstore rabble, why would anyone opt for a small business when you spent time hunting down those elusive and ambiguously marketed extended “Black Friday Weekend” deals?

Shopping small, particularly during the busiest shopping season, has a lot of advantages for the consumer.

Many small businesses are in niche markets where they do one thing – and they do it well. The staff is knowledgeable and probably knows exactly what you’re looking for; you might even be talking to the owner. This really cuts down on the panicked web search on your smart phone in the middle of the aisle that waffle maker was supposed to be in and the urge to yell at every haggard employee wearing the same red polo and glazed look of indifference to go check the back.

If a small business doesn’t have what you want, they can take the time to find it for you. If you don’t know what you want, their recommendations will carry far more weight than the Yahoo Answers you’d otherwise be scrolling through.

When you shop local, you feel good, like you just marked “support local businesses” down as your good deed of the day. Plus, who doesn’t love supporting the American Dream?

But it’s bigger than Brownie points; the advantages of shopping small are far-reaching. Small businesses benefit the local and national economy as they provide 55 percent of all jobs and account for 54 percent of all U.S. sales according to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). Small businesses are also notoriously charitable, with more than 90 percent contributing to charities and donating to their communities, according to the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB).

Shopping at small businesses is good for your neighborhood and adds a little humanity to the holiday shopping experience that is quickly becoming adequate training for the apocalypse. By participating in events like Small Business Saturday – or just stopping by a local shop rather than a chain store every once in a while – you help support a neighbor’s business and stimulate your local economy while receiving better and more specialized customer service than you’ll find online or in a mall.

We have the ability to change consumerism as we know it. Let’s try shopping small and see if Black Friday stampedes remain appealing.


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