Black Friday and Small Business Saturday are behind us, but, like me, you may still have some holiday gifts to buy.

I try to do my holiday and other gift shopping at small, locally-owned stores because I enjoy the process of discovering treasures, especially handmade wares, and I want to support my community.

As a former business journalist, I like to hear the stories of the local entrepreneurs and the inspirations behind their products. And when it comes to choosing gifts for my nieces (three have December birthdays!) and nephew, sister and brother (another December birthday!), etc., I try to be a little more creative and memorable than point-and-click.

Where do local businesses have an edge in the current-day world of online shopping via Amazon.com?

Customer service. When I shop at a local boutique, I’m usually engaged in conversation about what brought me in and what I might need help finding. Do I need a gift for my aunt? “Well, we just got these in …”

Product knowledge. When you shop online you have to rely on customer reviews or product descriptions. When you’re face-to-face with the person who made or placed the order for the sweater or whatnot, you can ask how it’s sized, find out how to care for it, etc. You also can learn the story behind the item, who put it together, what it’s made of.

Building relationships. It’s nice to go where everyone knows your name — or at least your face. When I shop downtown, there are store owners and employees who recognize me and may remember what I bought last time I was in and have some suggestions based on my previous visit.

Community diversity. After college I lived in a burned-out old industrial town (Pottstown, Pa., home to Mrs. Smith’s Pies and many now-defunct car-parts plants), where shuttered downtown storefronts outnumbered shops open for business. The downtown started to have a resurgence in the 12 years I was a resident. Shops and restaurants and other small businesses came back, one at a time, and so did shoppers. Then more shops and eateries opened, and then a theater, then an art gallery. More people bought homes, including me, and more people ventured downtown on the weekend instead of to the mall. I keep tabs on Pottstown, home of the start of my journalism career, and I’m happy to learn the downtown is even more vibrant now. When I moved to the Springs I was thrilled to work on busy Tejon Street, with the opportunity to choose from among many lunch spots and fun boutiques.

Investing in the community. According to American Express, for every $100 we spend at a local business, $67 stays in the community. Do you want to have unique stores you can walk to or take a short ride to? Better support them.

Creating local jobs. Busy businesses need workers. Those workers live in our community, and sales taxes from local stores are reinvested locally.

Helping the environment. Locally produced goods save energy and resources when it comes to transportation and packaging.

Giving back. Many local stores support/donate to local causes. Do I feel better about shopping at a place that donates to a local charity? Yes, I do.

It’s fun. Be a tourist in your town and seek out new stores and experiences, or revisit an old favorite. Bundle up, buy a hot cocoa and take a walk down your Main Street. Make a day of it with a friend or visitor. Take in December’s First Friday events at local art galleries and find one-of-a-kind jewelry and artworks, and/or enjoy the holiday caroling and Christmas lights during the Downtown Colorado Springs Holiday Stroll, 5-8 p.m., Wednesday, Dec. 11. I think you’ll find it to be a lot more enjoyable than spending extra time in front of a computer screen.

Michelle Karas has called the Pikes Peak region home for more than four years. She became editor of Pikes Peak Newspapers in June. Contact Michelle with column or story ideas, feedback and letters to the editor at michelle.karas@pikespeaknewspapers.com.

Editor, Pikes Peak Newspapers

In June 2019, Michelle became editor of the four Pikes Peak Newspapers: Pikes Peak Courier; The Tribune; and the Cheyenne and Woodmen editions. A Penn State journalism graduate, she joined the Gazette staff in 2015.

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