Rollie Atkinson

What links the outcomes of recent news stories about schoolteacher pay and strikes, SMART train expansion, mental health services, Kincade Fire recovery, expanded fire protection services, future Highway 101 improvements and happier holidays? Would you believe local shopping dollars?

Firefighters and teachers get paid from local taxes, which is also how we pay for public services like social programs and roads and transit. When local shopping activity goes up, more taxes get collected to pay for more services and better public employee salaries. Private businesses and salaries also improve because dollars spent locally get recirculated several times between businesses, vendors and households.

There are several extra reasons right now for everyone to stop taking shopping locally for granted. First, we need to circulate our dollars within our communities to help with the major losses and cost of the Kincade Fire recovery. Second, this is the all-important holiday season for our local shops and small businesses. Dollars spent at Amazon or online hurt our local economy. And, finally, we will soon be asked in upcoming 2020 elections to vote to raise taxes on ourselves to pay for all things listed above in the first sentence. If we spend our money out of town, those dollars won’t be here when the new taxes will be due.

This will be the first Christmas and surrounding holiday season where online retail shopping in America will outpace in-store retail shopping, according to the U.S. Dept. of Commerce and a Wells Fargo financial report. Amazon alone now accounts for 5% of all retail sales in the country. Last year in Sonoma County, overall retail sales grew by 2% while online purchases grew by 12 to 15%.

Shopping locally is about much more than making cash registers ring. There are 25,566 retail jobs in Sonoma County, according to the county’s Economic Development Board. Our shopping loyalty supports small shops and defines the overall character of our commercial centers. Shopping close to home conserves energy and the environment. If we didn’t support our local restaurants, wineries and food producers, they wouldn’t be here to attract all the tourists we now have that add millions of dollars to our local economy.

Look around right now, and you will see some eerily quiet sidewalks and half-dimmed storefronts. The impacts of the Kincade Fire evacuations and PG&E shutdowns have thousands of local businesses facing uncovered losses and gloomy outlooks. Our nonprofits will be impacted, too.

Alone or together, our local small businesses can’t compete with Amazon and other online marketers. Shopping locally no longer means getting the lowest price, best selection or next-day delivery. That is why if local shops want us to buy our holiday gifts closer to home and urge our friends and neighbors to do the same, they must do more to entice us. Remind us why local shopping matters. Share all the stories about local ownership, extra customer service, long-term relationships and why we choose to live here in the first place. 

Join together in tree lightings, lighted truck parades and holiday decoration contests. Refer your customers to other shops and stores up and down the street. Be a part of the local chamber of commerce or business group. Put some money into cooperative advertising or event sponsorships. Amazon can’t do these things, just like Amazon doesn’t pay any local taxes. Amazon and non-local big box stores do not buy advertising in local newspapers, which is part of the reason thousands of newspapers have been closing all across America.

Soon it will be Black Friday, then Cyber Monday. When did these become holidays that seem to be crowding out our more traditional small town celebrations? After Kincade, lots of us don’t have as many holiday shopping dollars as we want. Let’s make them go farther by shopping local, not just on Small Business Saturday, but every day of the year.

-Rollie Atkinson  

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