The Business Plan: Optimize your holiday shopping

The Business Plan: Optimize your holiday shopping
Bill Reagan

By Bill Reagan

Alexandria’s Black Friday campaign on November 27 and the national Small Business Saturday promotion on November 28 are great opportunities for all of us to make an extra effort to shop local this holiday season.

Both large and small retailers depend heavily on November and December revenues to remain profitable. 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.

National studies document the multiplier effects of supporting independent retailers vs. 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 store. Local businesses also tend to use local service providers, such as printers, accountants and attorneys, rather than outsourcing these services to a headquarters location in another state.

These independent retailers also fit into our small and historic spaces and contribute to our city’s character. They actively participate in community initiatives and are likely to have their finger on the pulse of Alexandria priorities.

This calls on us to not limit our shop-local focus 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.

But it’s not all about economic returns to the community; holiday shopping also should be about getting maximum enjoyment from the season. We should savor the character and trappings of our distinctive shopping venues.

Alexandrians have a much better backdrop for reclaiming the charm of traditional holiday shopping than most of our neighboring jurisdictions. Rather than struggling through crowds in nondescript shopping centers, we can enjoy an outing with friends that includes appreciating the architecture and character of our neighborhoods. Schedule breaks for lunch or refreshments, and imagine how many generations have shopped and dined along those same sidewalks or found similar shopping nooks and crannies.

Your store experience is likely to be distinct, too, when you shop in genuine neighborhoods rather than large malls or contrived town centers. In small stores, you’re more likely to be greeted when you enter, and you’ll find that the sales staff knows its stock, are able to field a variety of questions about it, and will be glad to search for what you need. Alexandria retailers tell us that their staffs are not only more knowledgeable, but they also are typically more enthusiastic about working during the holiday season than their big-box counterparts. Another added bonus: your gift purchases in these smaller stores are also more likely to be unique finds, and not something your recipients will see everywhere.

If you haven’t strolled through Alexandria’s attractive shopping districts, don’t miss this opportunity to explore our local retailers. Make time to stop for a drink or snack along the way, and pause to enjoy Alexandria’s various special attractions.

The writer is the executive director of the Alexandria Small Business Development Center.