Think outside the big box for post-Thanksgiving shopping

    It’s nearly impossible to get through Thanksgiving without some mention of the post-holiday shopping plans to prepare for Christmas. The day after Thanksgiving — or Black Friday — has been a traditional Christmas shopping day for over a century, though its incredible sales are a newer development.
    Don’t forget Cyber Monday, Small Business Saturday, Giving Tuesday, Plaid Friday and Green Monday. Thanksgiving has even been called Gray Thursday, as the Black Friday sales have crept earlier and earlier, edging in on Thanksgiving Day itself. Some nicknames, such as Cyber Week and Black November, indicate just how far-reaching the sales are.
    While these “holidays” are typically dominated by fairly large corporations, there’s been a trend in recent years to start recognizing small businesses. In a town like Holyoke, the “Shop Small” notion is more than a passing fad — it’s a way of life.
    As director of the Holyoke Chamber of Commerce, Elizabeth Hutches has a more vested interest than most in the success of the many local small businesses. While it’s nice to see things like Plaid Friday and Small Business Saturday pop up, Hutches noted, “In a small community, we need to shop small year-round.”
    That doesn’t mean people who live in Holyoke can’t get in on the post-Thanksgiving shopping action. It just might require a bit more thought and creativity.
    The U.S. Small Business Administration defines a small business as “an independent business having fewer than 500 employees.” Without worrying too much about definitions, Hutches said that, to her, the “shop small” concept means staying as close to home as possible.
    It certainly doesn’t take looking far to find Black Friday sales. Keep an eye on advertising at a local level to make sure such offers don’t fall through the cracks. In the spirit of Plaid Friday, make a commitment to do Nov. 24 shopping at a small business even if there isn’t a sale.
    Same goes for Small Business Saturday. Though a long weekend makes travel to larger cities easy, those interested in supporting their local businesses might consider saving the time and gas money by shopping in their hometown. Hutches challenged shoppers to consider whether it’s really worth a drive to Sterling. It might mean a savings of 50 cents on a bag of dog food or a couple bucks on toilet paper, but that’s money that isn’t staying in the local economy.
    Granted, some small businesses may be closed on the Friday or Saturday after Thanksgiving, but it’s worth considering shopping on a different day if it means keeping local businesses alive. “If you want services in your small town, you need to support them,” Hutches emphasized. If small businesses aren’t supported, residents may find a lengthy drive for essentials is no longer an option but a necessity.
    Even on Cyber Monday, it’s possible to shop local. On sites like Etsy, shoppers can narrow their search to include only sellers from a specific town. Many distributors of multilevel marketing products have online portals for shopping. Some home-based businesses promote their products in Facebook groups, too. It’s not the traditional Cyber Monday people think of, but it’s a way to keep money in the community and to support a neighbor.
    Any small-business owner would agree that there are challenges to staying afloat. According to the SBA, 78.5 percent of new establishments survive one year of business. After five years, only half will have survived, and in 10 years, that number falls to one-third.
    Finally, when Giving Tuesday rolls around, giving to any charity is a generous gesture, but keep in mind that there are numerous local organizations that will put the money into their own community. Whether the desire is to support education, the arts, children, health care or something else, there are ways to give locally, as well as shop locally.
    Although the National Retail Federation reports the average shopper spent $935.58 during last year’s holiday season (November and December), for small towns, shopping small is vital year-round.

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