Show gratitude, ‘shop small’ this holiday season

There’s no way around it: Thanksgiving is a complicated holiday. Although it represents a time of togetherness for some, Thanksgiving can be one of the saddest days of the year for those who are far away (physically or emotionally) from their families, and it is an especially hard day for the many Native Americans who recognize it as a national Day of Mourning.

As someone who desperately misses spending the holidays with her own East Coast family, I understand how lonely Thanksgiving can be.

But the “giving thanks” part of this holiday is something I’ve tried to keep with me whether I was celebrating with a gaggle of laughing mothers, sisters, cousins and aunts inside my grandmother’s tiny, central Pennsylvania kitchen or just hanging out with my own daughter, 3,000 miles away from the rest of the family.

This year, I am particularly thankful to be working for a community newspaper and to be covering communities like Camas and Washougal, where people still care about local politics and where families come out en masse to take part in community celebrations.

I know how lucky I am to live and work in places like Portland and Camas, where community is more than just a nice idea or marketing term. But I also know that these places are special thanks, in great part, to the many small business owners who have taken a chance and thrown everything they had into making their restaurant or shop or service work out. That’s why, for the past several years, I’ve committed to doing at least 90 percent of my holiday shopping at locally owned, “little box” stores. A few years ago, I did 100 percent of my shopping at local, independent businesses within one mile of my home. The hunt for unique, affordable gifts is fun, and my friends and family love to hear the stories about the different artists or shop owners I discovered while searching for their gifts.

According to the American Independent Business Alliance (AIBA), shopping at local, independent “little box” businesses strengthens the local economy in ways that shopping at national “big box” stores or online cannot.

“Each dollar you spend at independent businesses returns three times more money to your local economy than one spent at a chain … and almost 50 times more than buying from an online mega-retailer,” according to AIBA.

Shopping at local businesses also has proven to be better for the environment since it tends to use fewer shipping and transportation resources. And, because small business owners donate a higher percentage of their revenue to local nonprofits, “shopping small” also benefits the community’s less fortunate families.

I’ve found that I don’t spend much more than I would shopping at “big box” stores, since I tend to only buy one gift instead of two or three little gifts for each person on my shopping list. Plus, the experience of shopping at a local store, where the owner likely has good music on and maybe a tray of cookies and hot tea, lowers my stress level, while standing for 20 minutes inside a crowded “big box” store during the holidays (I’m looking at you, IKEA) makes me want to run screaming for a sensory-deprivation chamber.

Want to help your own community this holiday season? Downtown Camas businesses will celebrate “Little Box Friday” on Friday, Nov. 24, the day after Thanksgiving. On “Small Business Saturday,” the following day, look for “Shop Small” deals throughout the Camas-Washougal small business community.

However you choose to spend the holidays this year, we hope that you will take a moment to give thanks for the things that make this area so special, and that you will consider adding “shopping small” to your list of Thanksgiving traditions.