by Jennifer Chan
“Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone?” -Joni Mitchell
Welcome to November: the start of shopping season. Whether your holidays include hot cider, tamale-making or Chinese food on Christmas, they probably also include spending. In 2015, the United States spent more than $630 billion on holiday shopping (about 20 percent of the retail industry’s total sales for the year). American shoppers spend around $900 on gifts alone every holiday season, plus more on food, entertainment and travel.
These are big numbers that are rightly respected by retailers. So, what does this mean for us, the consumers? It means that, come holiday season, we get to exercise the power of our pocketbooks. Of course, year-round, our spending choices determine the kinds of communities we live in. Still, November and December are the times when the way we shop can have the most impact on the way we live.
With that in mind, this year, I’m going to scale back on my participation in the retail goliaths known as Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Instead, I’m planning to do more of my spending on their smaller counterpart: Small Business Saturday.
Small Business Saturday encourages consumers to patronize small, local businesses on the first Saturday after Thanksgiving. Shopping small and local has clear advantages. For one, when something goes wrong (my kids’ new speaker system doesn’t work, the dishwasher-safe champagne flutes broke…in the dishwasher), the big box stores can’t hold a candle to small businesses in terms of problem-solving and overall customer service.
But there’s more to it than that. One pundit puts it this way: “When you shop at your local hardware store, you’re not helping a CEO buy his third home—you’re helping a family put food on the table.” For me, however, shopping local isn’t really about helping others. Instead, it’s about helping myself. One of the things I appreciate most about the Bay Area is the abundance of unique neighborhoods nestled within our cities. That doesn’t mean I never shop at Target (I do), but I don’t particularly enjoy spending time there. I’d much rather be in Rockridge in Oakland, Bernal Heights in San Francisco or Railroad Square in Santa Rosa. When I buy a book at Green Apple in San Francisco or a toy at Mr. Mopps’ in Berkeley, I’m helping keep these neighborhoods unique.
It’s been more than 45 years since Joni Mitchell first sang about putting trees in a tree museum, and we’ve paved a lot of paradises since then…but not all of them. And in contrast to 1970, I think that in 2016, many of us know and value the local communities we still have. This season, whatever your holiday traditions, consider letting your money talk by supporting communities that are integral parts of this Bay Area paradise.
To find a Diamond Certified company near you on Small Business Saturday, visit www.diamondcertified.org.