The holidays conjure up images of simpler times — chestnuts roasting on an open fire, and all that good stuff. But in reality, this is when rampant consumerism really goes through the roof. In fact, Americans consistently spend more around the holidays than almost any other country, something we're not so sure we should be proud of. Unless that money is helping your community thrive.
Every year Lowcountry Local First works to put a more positive spin on holiday spending. Stretching from Nov. 14 to Dec. 15, Buy Local Month is an initiative that strives to put local businesses first in shoppers' minds. The goal is to channel funds back home and build relationships along the way, creating what LLF calls the "cycle of prosperity."
"When we buy local, our sales tax dollars increase, therefore we have more money to put back into schools, parks, libraries, and other public services," says LLF Executive Director Jamee Haley. "Local shops are typically going to do business with other local businesses too."
The Institute for Local Self-Reliance and the 2012 Independent Business Survey found that businesses that participate in a "Buy Local" campaign saw a 7.2 percent change in revenue in 2011, while those without a campaign saw just 2.6 percent growth. In Charleston specifically, LLF has reported that the community retains three times more money due to local independent businesses. There's an advantage for shoppers, too. "First of all, shoppers are going to get some unique items that they don't find at big box stores," Haley says. "They will also get a higher quality product. Because local businesses compete with big box stores, they try to bring in higher quality items. Store owners also get to know customers, what they want and their tastes, and they can buy for their stores based on that knowledge."
The real reason to buy local, however, is for the experience. Purchasing from community businesses represents a shift in what we value, from the lowest price to quality goods and exchanges. When our consciousness shifts to a local one, we make connections to the community, not the product. And at the end of the day, buying local just sounds like a lot more fun.
If this appeals to you, consider taking the Buy Local Challenge and committing at least 10 percent of your holiday purchasing to local businesses. Last year, holiday shoppers planned to spend around $700 on gifts, according to a Gallup poll. Meeting this challenge would mean purchasing just two or three gifts from locally owned stores.
LLF makes it pretty easy, too, listing a business directory on their website and recommending a stroll at the farmer's market as an alternative to the shopping you might usually do at the mall. They also suggest having your holiday meal out at a local restaurant.
LLF wants to know when you meet your goals, so be sure to keep them in the loop. Submit pictures, stories, or data to firstname.lastname@example.org. Those who submit will be entered to win two tickets to the organization's oyster roast in January.
If you're already on board and ready to shop, check out the Winter Wonderland Tasting and Vintage Jewelry Trunk show taking place at DOMICILE downtown on Small Business Saturday (Nov. 24). Kelly Kleisner, Fat Hen's pastry chef and owner of Mirabelle Bakery, will offer tastings of her catering offerings while Candy Shop Vintage will have jewelry for sale.
On the first of December, join LLF at the City of Charleston's Marion Square Tree Lighting, where you can enter the raffle for a gift basket full of local goodies. After the ceremony, King Street will be closed to traffic so revelers can take a Holiday Stroll featuring carolers, hot chocolate, cookies, local vendors, and more.
For more information on these events or to sign up for the Buy Local Month challenge, visit lowcountrylocalfirst.org.