November 11, 2009

A challenge to stimulate Erin's economy

As published in The Erin Advocate

With all the government attempts to stimulate the economy these days, we should not forget that Christmas is an opportunity to give Erin businesses a boost.

Building the local economy by shopping locally is not a new concept, but it often requires a change in shopping habits, especially for people who work in nearby cities that have convenient malls and big-box stores.

Here is a challenge to every employed person in town: try to spend at least $50 at local shops this Christmas season. It is not a lot, and it is money you would be spending anyway.

A small change in shopping strategy could end up having a real impact throughout the year. These are the businesses that employ local people, pay local taxes and create a positive atmosphere and image for the town.

Tourists recognize the value. But we should not have to rely on tourists to drive our economy when we have the means to do it ourselves.

It is not a matter of charity, or feeling sorry for the small business owner. These people have to compete to survive, and they are out there working to earn customers' support. Erin and Hillsburgh have excellent shops that might have what you want. Or they might not. It is a matter of giving them an opportunity to meet your needs.

As an example, when I wanted to buy a guitar, I shopped around, but ended up buying one at The Village Music Store. I gave the store the opportunity to earn my business because it is local, but I bought there because it offered quality products, good service and competitive prices.

There is a campaign gaining popularity in the US and Canada called "The 3/50 Project". It encourages employed people to pick three small businesses and spend a total of $50 at them each month. Started by retail consultant Cinda Baxter of Minneapolis, it is a push to empower consumers and revive communities suffering due to the recession.

"For every $100 spent in locally owned independent stores, $68 returns to the community in taxes, payroll and other expenditures," she says on her website, "If you spend that in a national chain, only $43 stays here. Spend it online and nothing comes home."

When we "invest" with our shopping dollars, we help small businesses prosper, expand, offer more selection and hire more people.

Downtown Erin stores are holding their 7th annual Window Wonderland this Friday, November 13, starting at 6 p.m., to raise their profile for the Christmas shopping season.

Last year's event had a nice party atmosphere despite the rain, and this year's should be even better with the lighting of the Christmas tree at the new park at 109 Main Street. The name of the park will be announced.

BIA shops will unveil their window displays and stay open until 9 p.m. Santa will drop in for a visit. There will be horse and carriage rides, hot dogs, cookies, hot apple cider and hot chocolate to help folks stay warm.

I just got home from a rehearsal of the strolling Christmas carol singers preparing for the event, and we're sounding pretty good. We will be in pseudo-Dickensian attire – my first opportunity to wear a top hat this year.

So come out for some fun, but be on the lookout for investment opportunities.