Viewpoint: Shop at small businesses all year round

How many of you have heard of Black Friday? A fair answer to that question would likely be, “How many people haven’t heard of Black Friday?” That yearly occurrence starts topping headlines at least a month before the weekend and for at least a week after, whether they’re of outrage over more stores opening up on the day of Thanksgiving or video footage of people assaulting each other over a piece of merchandise. So it’s a given you’ve at least heard of it, even if you haven’t yet participated. However, how many of you have heard of Small Business Saturday? Probably not as many, although the number is growing.

In 2010, American Express started the first Small Business Saturday, a day (the Saturday after Thanksgiving, or the day after Black Friday) when they encouraged consumers to shop at local small businesses. The next year, the U.S. Senate officially recognized the day as Small Business Saturday. According to the American Express’ Small Business Saturday website, the support behind the day has only grown.

So why should you or anyone else shop small business? There are a fair amount of reasons not to. Local stores are often more expensive than the big brands like Target and Walmart. This has a number of causes: Many small businesses, like bakeries and restaurants, make their products in house with limited space and staff; large businesses are able to buy in bulk to offset costs; chain business have their names to back their sales and draw people in as well as the finances to advertise. Small businesses are also usually limited to only one or a few locations, which can deter people who have to go out of the way to get there.

However, while the benefits of shopping at small businesses may not be immediately apparent to some, they certainly outweigh any of those relatively tiny negatives. As KSL reported in its local coverage of Small Business Saturday, as much as four times the money spent at a local store will stay within the community than if it had been spent at a chain store. When you spend the money at big-name stores, those funds generally go to the national corporation, which then gets to decide where the money could go. That could be anywhere in its thousands to hundreds of thousands of stores and employees. That means the cash could feasibly end up anywhere, which is great for the store, but not so great for the local community. In the end, the employees and usually the city and state that levies taxes are the only ones to really see that cash come back into the community.

Communities need small businesses. Yes, big businesses moving in with their big stores often mean more jobs, but many times, those jobs pay low salaries with little to no benefits (stores like Costco are an exception here). Local businesses may not be clamoring for hundreds of workers to staff one building, but they do give an opportunity for community members to set their own work standards. Small businesses where everyone knows each other’s first, middle and last names and number of pets become more personal for both the staff and the customers. It’s a type of humanistic feeling that is often lost in the blaring lights of bigger stores.

And yes, sometimes the cost of products at these stores is a little higher than at the local Walmart. However, most of the time (there’s always a bad bunch in every sector), that means better quality. The smaller stores have to hand-pick what they bring in to sell, and since you know the faces of the owners, managers and all the staff, getting the right kind of goods directly reflects on the store’s people, and there’s more pressure to get it right.

We’ve likely all heard by now the horror stories of Black Friday shopping. If this year is any indication, it’s likely only going to get worse. However, in future years and, really, on every day of the year, think about how you can support your local small businesses and, in turn, your community. Don’t let corporate Black Friday be the standard for every holiday-shopping goal.