By Bill Reagan
Alexandria’s Black Friday campaign and the national Small Business Saturday promotion are great opportunities for all of us to shop local this holiday season.
American Express launched the Small Business Saturday campaign in 2010 and estimates that the effort increased spending nationally at small, independently owned stores by more than $5 billion last year.
Large and small retailers depend heavily on November and December shopping revenues to stay in the black. Because Alexandria’s economy is so dependent on the success of our small businesses, the Black Friday and Small Business Saturday campaigns should receive our concerted and wholehearted support.
However, we should not limit our shop local attitude to a few days around the holidays. We have an opportunity to support local businesses year-round, and our community benefits every time we choose an independent retailer over a big-box store.
National studies document the multiplier effects of supporting independent retailers versus national chains. The calculation is that each dollar spent at a locally owned business returns twice the amount of money to the local economy as a dollar spent at a chain. Local businesses also tend to use area service providers — such as printers, accountants and attorneys — rather than outsourcing these services to a headquarters location in another city or state.
Alexandria relies on these small, local businesses in many ways. Independent retailers fit into our small and historic spaces and give our city its character and charm. These small business owners and their employees often sponsor events, serve on volunteer boards, and contribute time and money to local causes. Alexandria benefits when our businesses are engaged, and local, small businesses are more likely to have their fingers on the pulse of the community.
Consumers also benefit from shopping at local businesses — it’s simply more fun! With areas like Old Town and Del Ray, Alexandria boasts the unique convenience that comes with having many independent shops within walking distance of one another, where shoppers can avoid the hassle of a shopping mall or big-box store.
These businesses also tend to have unique items that you can’t find at every chain store. Shoppers can find that special gift and show that they put thought into selecting the item. Service at small shops tends to be more personal, too, so customers won’t spend unnecessary time wandering around a store looking for a particular item.
With so many community and personal benefits to shopping local, it makes sense that there’s a national push to remind people to choose small businesses. Rather than supporting small businesses on a single day, we should resolve to support local businesses every day.
If you haven’t strolled through Alexandria’s attractive shopping districts, don’t miss this opportunity to meet our local retailers and explore what they have to offer. Make time to stop for a drink or snack along the way and pause to enjoy these special, local attractions.
– The writer is the director of the Alexandria Small Business Development Center.