Downtown lights

Cars pass under the holiday lights on Main Street in Pendleton on Wednesday evening in this long exposure image.

With the official start of the holiday shopping season upon us, we would like to urge residents to shop local, and here’s why.

When you spend money at a local store in, say, downtown Pendleton, Milton-Freewater or Hermiston, you are doing more than simply purchasing a gift. When you shop at a locally owned small business, those dollars stay in the community. That’s because local merchants often purchase items from other locally owned stores. Spending money at a small business in our downtowns helps the overall business health of the community.

Another element that makes shopping local appealing is that small businesses offer unique gifts. But more than that, small business is a distinctive piece of our small-town character. Small businesses across Umatilla and Morrow counties exude a sense of place, of the communities they set up shop in, and of Eastern Oregon. Another key to the benefits of shopping locally is that small businesses generally are the biggest employers at home.

Small merchants also typically invest in the community. That means your dollars don’t fly out of town and end up at a corporate office far away. No, your dollars recirculate in the community and are reinvested in many ways. Think about businesses who donate so the local soccer team can buy new jerseys or the dance team can travel to competition. That reinvestment is often unnoticed, but it is important for a host of reasons, not the least of which is it helps the community in the long run.

And shopping at a locally owned business can be an intimate, positive experience. A patron often participates in a one-on-one interaction with the person who owns the business. The customer service is specialized and specific, and that counts for something in our fast-paced world.

We are not immune to nor dismissive of the attractions of big-box stores, such as Walmart or Home Depot. The Walmarts of the world provide a large array of choices. The convenience of one-stop shopping offered by big-box stores has its benefits, and most of us this year will journey through the doors of Walmart or travel down the interstates to larger metro centers like Portland or the Tri-Cities to do some Christmas shopping.

We’re not advocating abandoning shopping at a big-box store, but only suggesting that when you are out looking for those gifts, don’t forget about the unique offerings of your local merchants.

The business strength of a small town isn’t exclusive to just one type of merchant. We need Walmart and we need small businesses. For those businesses to survive — and if they prosper, we all prosper — they need patrons.

Saturday is “Small Business Saturday” across the country. We encourage you to shop local this year. You won’t regret it.

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