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This holiday season, think outside the big box

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It matters where we spend our money. For instance, I like supporting local entrepreneurs whenever possible -- especially small business owners active in the community. Engaged entrepreneurs can make a big difference to the health of a neighborhood.

I learned a lot about the benefits of local from reading Locavesting: The Revolution in Local Investing and How to Profit From It by Amy Cortese.  "Just as 'locavaores' eat mostly foods that have been raised or grown in a radius of 100 miles or so, some people are investing the same way," she writes. "I call them locavestors."
 
As we head into the last weekend for holiday shopping, I thought I'd ask Amy for insight about buying local.

Amy Cortese

Amy Cortese: "Buy Local" campaigns across the country have raised awareness about why it matters where we shop.
 
Small businesses create two out of every three jobs and employ half the private workforce. In addition, they benefit their communities in ways that multinational corporations do not. A dollar spent at a locally owned business generates two to four times more local economic impact than the same dollar spent at a chain. That's because more money stays local rather than being sucked out to a distant headquarters.

Small businesses also tend to support other local businesses, give to local charities, pay their share of taxes and generally make our neighborhoods desirable places to live.
 
We've heard all that before. But it is doesn't always sink in until that beloved bookstore or shop goes out of business, and then it's too late. They might not always be able to compete with the economies of scale of the big box retailers, but if we lived in a perfect world where all costs were fully accounted for -- including the costs to society of low-wage jobs and the subsidized healthcare it encourages, the decimation of domestic manufacturing jobs and skills, runoff from parking lots the size of football fields, and a loss of diversity -- the small retailers would surely come out ahead.   
 
The good news is that it's a great time to buy local. There has been an explosion of farmers markets and artisanal craftsmanship, so many of us can choose from a selection of locally made spirits, microbrews, pickles, chocolate, jam and other treats.
 
Independent bookstores are staging a comeback, too: More than 400 have opened in the past few years, even as the Borders chain collapsed. The indie booksellers know their literature and their markets and can help you zero in on the perfect gift (what’s called "hand selling" in the business). And for the digitally inclined on your list, many indie bookstores that are members of the American Booksellers Association now sell Google e-books on their websites. (You can find a list at Indiebound.org.)
 
You might also consider gift certificates from a local restaurant, shop, cinema, spa or yoga studio, or a donation to a local charity in a loved one’s name.
 
There are other ways to think outside the big box. Live in a town with a consumer cooperative? Give a membership. Or for those who live in Green Bay, Wis., or Saranac Lake, N.Y., nothing says "local" like a share in the community-owned football team (packersowner.com) or department store
 
So this holiday season, shop local. Not only is it more pleasant, it is truly a gift that keeps on giving.

 

About the author

Chris Farrell is the economics editor of Marketplace Money.

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