Editorial: Shop local this holiday season

Skip last-minute holiday shopping on Amazon and support local economies.

The Editorial Board

Things are looking bleak for small businesses this winter. People have lost jobs and have become less likely to buy non-essential items. Fears of catching the virus have reduced foot traffic in stores. As of September, about 100,000 businesses had closed permanently. Partisan gridlock in Congress left businesses without the aid they needed for months. No editorial in a school newspaper will prevent that from being a reality. But, if the Friends community cares about the survival of our neighborhood stores, there is one small action each of us can take. We can support local businesses. We can stop shopping on Amazon.

Amazon has long claimed to be good for small businesses. According to Jeff Wilke, Chief Executive of Amazon Worldwide Center, “Amazon helps small and medium-sized businesses reach hundreds of millions of customers around the world, giving the smallest of businesses the opportunity to compete next to the household brands.” Indeed, many of Amazon’s products don’t come from huge brands. But Wilke’s comment obscures the driving force behind Amazon’s decisions: making money. Amazon’s  search algorithms favor its own products. Customers won’t necessarily see the most relevant or best-rated choices when they make purchases. They will see the products that make Amazon the most money. 

Amazon charges businesses to put their goods on the site. Additional charges reduce a small business’s already slim profit margins. Any narrative that Amazon is some savior for small businesses ignores the company’s actual actions and goals. It is a for-profit corporation, aiming to make a profit.  

There is a better way to help small businesses during this difficult time: use their websites and shop in-person if you feel safe doing so. Buying goods from Amazon lines the pockets of already wealthy executives – it doesn’t help the indie company that made the product. 

Your choice to support small businesses matters. Shopping at local businesses not only helps their owners but an entire community. Studies have shown that locally owned businesses put more of their profit back into the local economy and employ more people per unit of sales. Their success supports the livelihood of their employees. Their success equates to  prosperity in the communities where these small businesses operate. Small businesses use their purchasing power in neighborhoods and boost local tax revenue. A thriving small business means better-funded schools, more money for roads, more chances for other businesses, and a healthier community. 

Yes, many structural reforms are needed to protect mom and pop stores – fairer rents, more generous government aid, an end to tax breaks for Amazon. But if everyone shrugs their shoulders and decides their own actions don’t matter, nothing will change. Yes, if you buy directly from a company’s website, it might take a little longer to ship. Or if you go to buy something in person, it might take a little more effort. But you are pumping money back into a community that needs it and starting a chain reaction that might lessen the economic repercussions of the pandemic. 

Shopping local isn’t just our duty. It’s also our privilege. Going into a shop curated by an individual, where everything represents someone’s unique tastes, is more exciting than clicking a button on Amazon. Shop at Beacon’s Closet. Its collection consists of used clothes from individuals and represents the personalities of thousands. Shop at The Chocolate Room. It’s full of unique homemade chocolates. Shop at The Evolution Store. Its collection of skulls, fossils, and oddities will make unique gifts. Shop at any store in your neighborhood that you want to support. 

Many small businesses are past the point of rescue. They’ve already been shut down. But the Friends community can choose to help prevent thousands more from joining them. Buying goods on Amazon pushes money into a company that profited from the pandemic. Buying goods in local stores gives money to people who need it. Shopping local seems like an easy choice to this newspaper.