Editorial: Another day, another (local) dollar

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Between Black Friday and Cyber Monday is Small Business Saturday.

Small Business Saturday was created by American Express in 2010 to encourage people to shop locally at small local businesses. A Small Business Saturday Consumer Insights Survey last year estimated that consumers spent $14.3 billion at small independent businesses.

Every year there are horror stories about shopping on Black Friday. This year was no exception. Small Business Saturday, by comparison, has always been a nicer, feel-good counterpoint.

The local push has its detractors, who claim Small Business Saturday makes little difference in consumers’ shopping.

Gene Marks cynically suggests on Entrepreneur.com: “You don’t need ‘Small Business Saturday’ to succeed. If you’re a successful small business owner you could very well be insulted by the idea. I am.”

We believe Marks misses the point.

Writes Chris Myers on Forbes.com: “Small Business Saturday is more about building long-term awareness than trying to salvage holidays sales numbers. Sure, the idea of a manufactured holiday may seem trite, but as with most things in life, awareness is half the battle.”

Awareness is not the only upside. Numerous studies show the real economic benefit of shopping locally.

A 2003 study from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance found that every $100 spent at a locally owned business generates $45 in local spending. That’s more than three times the amount of local spending, $14, at big-box retailers.

“Dollars spent at a local retailer support not only that store, but a variety of other local businesses, including local banks, accountants, printers, and internet service providers,” the study reports.

It also found that local businesses donate more to charity. In the 2003 study, eight local businesses donated, as a percentage of overall sales, four times as much as Wal-Mart and twice as much as Target.

Another study, The Andersonville Study of Retail Economics, found “Locally-owned businesses generate a substantial Local Premium in enhanced economic impact.” Among its specific findings were:

  • “For every $100 in consumer spending with a local firm, $68 remains in the Chicago economy.
  • “For every $100 in consumer spending with a chain firm, $43 remains in the Chicago economy.
  • “For every square foot occupied by a local firm, local economic impact is $179.
  • “For every square foot occupied by a chain firm, local economic impact is $105.”

For good measure, a study in the Journal of Urban Economics concluded that “some types of local ownership do insulate regions from economic shocks,” meaning the stronger the local business base the less likely a community is to suffer in a national or regional downturn.

While Small Business Saturday is over, you can still participate in Cyber Monday and buy locally.

Etsy.com is an online marketplace where local business and craftspeople sell their products directly to consumers. Worcester-based products can be found here. Amazon.com also has more than 5,000 Worcester-related items, which can be found here.

One day after Cyber Monday is Giving Tuesday.

Giving Tuesday was created in 2012 by the 92nd Street Y in New York and the United Nations Foundation. Its goal is to create awareness for philanthropy during the holiday season and at the end of the year, when many people make charitable donations.

One of its primary tools is social media, specifically Twitter. Giving Tuesday, referred to as #GivingTuesday on Twitter, says it had 32.7 million impressions on the social network and more than 750,000 mentions of #GivingTuesday.

According to Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, Giving Tuesday raised $45.68 million from more than 296,000 people in 2014. That money was donated to more than 15,000 nonprofit organizations.

Using the rationale from the Journal of Urban Economics study, donating to local charities insulates the organizations from a reduction in giving during an economic downturn.

These days, like the holiday season itself, tick by quickly. However, that shouldn’t dissuade you from making positive contributions to the local economy. There’s always time for that.

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