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Stott: Shop locally when you can

Amid the frenzied spree of Black Friday and the calmer but still hectic rush of Cyber Monday lies Small Business Saturday. In the middle of what has become the biggest shopping weekend of the year is a 24-hour slot of time in which consumers are urged to spend money at locally-owned retailers.

Rather than taking advantage of stores that claim to have everything shoppers need (and more) or those with the lowest prices, customers are urged to patronize independent stores, even if it means spending a little more money or making a few more stops to pick up all the essentials.

Of course, low prices and one-stop shopping are the reasons we gravitate to big-box stores in the first place. But the benefits of shopping locally are clear: Stimulation of the immediate area’s economy, support of merchants who live and work in the community and the opportunity to find unique items not offered at other places.

Shoppers are encouraged to shop regularly at local merchants, not just on Small Business Saturday. This helps sustain independent businesses year-round, instead of just near the holidays.

It is a great sentiment, but is it a rational practice for those on tight budgets?

As a college student, I make a small amount of money at a part-time internship. My focus during the school year is classwork; the internship is supplemental. I am not poor or broke, but my money must be carefully rationed.

I’d love to support every small business in the area, because together they create a unique atmosphere for shopping and dining that we often take for granted. I also recognize the important economic stimulus that comes from patronizing local stores.

But I’ve had to compromise as a low-income student and shop in a way that I try to support as many businesses as I can.

Instead of buying all my groceries from an independent grocer, I try to switch off where I shop, so I’m not putting all my money in one place. If I shop at a big-box store one week, I’ll go to a local place the next.

I don’t have a lot of money, and I have even less time to go to a ton of small stores in search of what I need. But I try to be conscious of where my money is going. I don’t want it going to big-box stores all the time, where the corporation benefits more than the employees. If I shop locally but then have to pare down my expenses in another area, it is probably worth it.

And if I have to buy less somewhere else because I spent a little more at a local store, fine. But refusing to shop locally because of convenience or cost doesn’t help anyone around here, and it prevents effective economic recovery.

Because the holidays are here, many people will be shopping more than they do at other times. Just because there is a day designated for shopping locally doesn’t mean it can’t be done all the time.

So instead of blowing my small business budget last weekend, I decided to consciously spend my money locally throughout the holiday season and all year.

• Lauren Stott is a Maple Park native and a graduate student at Northern Illinois University in the master of public administration program. She can be reached at lauren_stott@yahoo.com.

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