I have to admit that I'm one of the worst Christmas shoppers in my family. I'm one of those you probably read about in the news headlines -- the one person who seemingly waits until the last minute to do their shopping.
But in all honesty, I tend to wait until the last minute because I keep convincing myself that I'll start my shopping "tomorrow," which then becomes "this weekend" and then "next week." Before I know it, I find myself trapped in the Christmas carnage in hopes of finding something appropriate to put under the tree.
My wife, on the other hand, is one of those individuals who prefers to start Christmas shopping early. And by "early," I mean that she tends to start buying gifts eight or nine months in advance.
I suppose her only fault behind this extremely early shopping passion is that she goes to great lengths to hide those initial gifts and then forgets where she hid them. This might help explain how I ended up with an unopened Saturday Night Fever album a few years ago.
In all seriousness, there are a number of folks in the Mountain Home area that are in the midst of their Christmas shopping. This time of year also represents a critical time for shops and stores in our community who rely on those increased sales to make or exceed their annual profit margins.
Those who run these shops are no strangers to any of us. They're our neighbors and friends that we regularly bump into throughout the year. So let's show them that we really care about them and spend our money in their businesses versus taking our dollars elsewhere.
In our quest to find those ideal Christmas presents, it's way too easy for us to rush out to a shopping mall or "big box" retailer in the Treasure Valley, but it's more meaningful if we choose to shop here instead. Advances in computer technology are making it worse because it's easier for us to do business with a global conglomerate that uses robots instead of actual people to pull our presents off a warehouse shelf and send them our way.
These merchants lack the small-town warmth and charm of a corner store business. In comparison, our "mom and pop shops" will not only welcome you personally, but these shop owners tend to know you on a first-name basis.
I can't remember anytime that I've stepped into a store in Boise where the employees could even venture a guess of who I was or whether I even lived in Idaho. To them, I'm just another generic customer, and all they want to do is to separate me from the few dollars I have available in my wallet.
There's another problem with these large mega stores. They often have no clue regarding anything they sell. I've had instances over the years where I wanted a particular electronic gadget or gizmo but had no idea how it worked or whether it was even compatible with anything I already owned.
It turns out, a lot of these mega retailers don't know, either. While the employees of a major retailer can often tell if an item is on their shelves, it's just one of a few hundred individual items they also keep in stock. I doubt they can keep up with all the unique quirks associated with each one.
I don't see that same problem with local stores. While they don't have a large variety of products on their shelves, what they do carry is often something they've actually taken out of the box and tried out.
You're better off trusting the opinion of someone with firsthand knowledge of what they're selling versus the star ratings of the same product carried by some faceless online retailer. After all, you never know if a product gets a "thumb's down" on a Web site because someone out there was doing it out of spite (thinking it would be funny) or if the person even bothered to actually buy the item to begin with.
In the case of the latter, I've actually dealt with that when I was doing some research on a new telescope I desperately wanted. Based on some of the "thumbs down" comments I read on some online reviews, I wondered if those folks knew what a telescope even looked like let alone understanding how it worked.
When it comes to shopping local, consider the following. It's a lot faster and significantly less stressful making that short trek to a store that has what you want versus making that 90-plus mile round trip to some store in Boise for the same exact item that might offer it for a few dollars less.
But when you add in the amount of gasoline you'll burn in that trip, the time spent driving back and forth, you're rarely saving any money. Plus, if that sweater doesn't fit, the toy doesn't work or that flat screen television is defective, you'll end up having to make a return trip back to the Treasure Valley, which is even more money out of your pocket.
Take it from someone that really hates driving on the interstate (even when the roads are clear), it's a lot less stressful buying something here than dealing with all the traffic and huge crowds up in the Treasure Valley. In less than five minutes here, I can get to the store in question, buy what I want and be on my way back home.
The walk from store to store in our downtown area is also a lot faster versus having to walk over several acres of asphalt in a mall parking lot before walking from one end of the mall to the other to get the same exact gift. And that's only *if* you can find an open parking spot at a shopping mall, which is never guaranteed.
When you shop local, you not only finish your Christmas gift list, you're directly helping a local family by putting a few extra dollars in their cash register so they can continue to keep their doors open.
Doing business here ensures these owners can buy gifts for their children or loved ones and can afford other necessities that others often take for granted. These folks can now afford to enroll their children in local sports programs or help their kids pursue their dreams in music or to make their college aspirations possible.
In addition, there's always that chance of running into our friends in these stores and stopping for a minute to say "hello." Beyond family, our friends are among the greatest riches we can treasure.
The holiday season comes as our community continues to show signs that the economy in our small town is starting to improve. Let's continue to spread that message by giving these small shops and stores a few extra dollars this season.
Out of all the gifts we can possibly give this Christmas, giving these shops our support is perhaps the best one we can provide.
-- Brian S. Orban