Editorial: Look close to home

It starts long before the turkey is carved, and extends beyond the moment the final piece of wrapping paper is crumpled up. Yes, the holiday shopping season is upon us.

It seems like every year it comes earlier and earlier, sneaked into our collective consciousness by overzealous retailers who rely so much on this time of year. But there’s a sort of unspoken cease-fire that exists before Black Friday, when the gloves suddenly come off and the spending free-for-all begins.

Despite a lingering recession, Americans have shown themselves simply unwilling to forgo pulling out all the stops during December. The average American family spent around $700 on gifts last year, only about $50 less than pre-recession levels. And by some predictions, we’ll soon be getting back to what we spent before the bubble burst (this is backed up by higher consumer confidence and increasing month-to-month spending overall).

Retailers know this, of course, and aggressively court the business of consumers this time of year through sales, advertising campaigns and special holiday hours. Many brick-and-mortar retailers have even expanded their Black Friday onslaught into Turkey Day itself, opening doors in the evening and keeping them open through the following day. This is in part predicated by the ever-increasing popularity of online shopping. FTI Consulting recently predicted spending on gifts would increase 4.5 percent this year, mostly at online retailers. The same report estimated yearly holiday spending would top $460 billion by 2020, nearly twice what we spend as a nation today and 15 percent of all retail sales.

With Black Friday doorbusters, unbelievable new gadgets thought up just for the holidays, the unending fields of cheap and plentiful kitsch and the piece de resistance, online shopping (no pants required), it’s easy to get caught up in the hype.

The thing is, much of this bypasses what is vital to an area’s character and health: local business. These are the places owned by our neighbors that put paychecks into the pockets of entire families — maybe even your family. And as is demonstrated time and time again, it is becoming more difficult to make it as a small business; how could it not be, when 15 percent of retail dollars are going to the big guys?

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