By Bill Moore
Halloween is over, the midterm elections have ended, deer season has begun, and we are now looking forward to Thanksgiving celebrations of our blessings and bounty with family and friends. This can mean only one thing: Black Friday and Cyber Monday are looming on the horizon.
Over the next six weeks, retailers expect to see 30 percent of their annual sales. It is predicted that the average American will spend $700 on holiday gifts this year, according to the National Retail Federation. This represents an increase of between 4.3 percent and 4.8 percent over 2017. Investopedia tells us that, “In 2017, holiday sales were highest in electronic shopping and mail-order houses, and food and beverage stores, totaling $122.1 billion and $128.1 billion, respectively.”
What does that mean for Central Vermont?
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2016 (the most current year for which data is available) there were 361 retail establishments in Washington County. Those businesses, largely comprised of “mom and pop” stores, employ 4,415 of our friends and neighbors. The annual payroll for those businesses is $121.3 million. Washington County does have our share of national retail outlets, whether franchised or directly owned. However, the overwhelming majority of our retail outlets are small businesses. Retail outlets in Central Vermont run the gamut from appliance and electronic stores, to motor vehicles and parts dealers, to general merchandise stores and everything in between.
So where can you get the best deals on your holiday purchases?
Shop locally. The U.S. Small Business Administration reminds us that Nov. 24 is Small Business Saturday — a day to celebrate and support small businesses and all they do for their communities. The SBA encourages everyone to support local small business by shopping at a small business.
There is no doubt that shopping from the confines of home while lounging in a bathrobe can be easier than facing the crowds in any of our vibrant downtowns in central Vermont. Shopping may be more leisurely done online than stopping in at the Berlin Mall or driving to one of the many shopping plazas in our area.
But the at-home shopping experience pales in comparison to stepping into a local retail store. In-person shopping at a local shop gives you the opportunity to use more of your senses as you decide what to get for your favorite aunt. You can see, touch and smell the goods being offered. You can’t try on a jacket or vest in cyberspace.
As convenient as the internet can be, digital “1s” and “0s” simply cannot compete with the friendliness and helpfulness of our local retailers. Are you sure that the color seen through your monitor (or phone or tablet screen) is really the shade you are looking for?
By shopping locally, you are supporting your own economy, you are giving a vote of confidence to our retailers — people whose first names you already know. (Pro tip: Many of these local retailers will meet or beat the online prices for identical items if you simply ask them.) While you are out shopping, you can also take a break at any number of our coffee shops, restaurants and pubs that provide a safe respite while checking names off your gift list.
An added bonus from shopping locally is that walking in, around and out of stores is good for you. On top of getting some fresh air, think about the calories you are burning. Any amount of exercise works as a great counter-balance to all the wonderful holiday food and drinks to be enjoyed throughout the season.
This holiday shopping season, make it a personal commitment to shop locally.
Bill Moore is president and CEO of the Central Vermont Chamber of Commerce.