WILSON’S LOCAL PRINT AND DIGITAL COMMUNITY INSTITUTION SINCE 1896

Our Opinion: Vote with your wallets, shop small this Christmas season

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Thursday is for turkey, family and football. Friday is for big-box doorbusters. And Saturday is for shopping local.

Small Business Saturday, a campaign supporting mom-and-pop shops that’s only been on the nation’s radar since American Express began promoting it in 2010, returns today with special deals and promotions here in Wilson and in communities coast-to-coast. It’s a worthwhile effort for consumers to support, and there’s no need to limit buying local-first to one day a year.

Small businesses — which the federal government defines as any independent business with fewer than 500 employees — make up 99.7 percent of American companies and nearly half of all private-sector jobs, according to U.S. Small Business Administration figures. Nearly three out of four small businesses are sole proprietorships and 52 percent are home-based businesses. Just 2 percent are franchises, or locally owned companies that pay to use a national brand’s name and sell its products.

With few exceptions, most downtown Wilson shops qualify as small businesses. Ditto for downtown storefronts in Elm City, Stantonsburg, Sharpsburg, Kenly, Rocky Mount and Goldsboro.

“At the Wilson Chamber, a huge majority of our members would be considered small businesses,” chamber President Ryan Simons told Times business reporter Brie Handgraaf for this week’s Main Street Minute column. “For us, attention to their importance in the marketplace isn’t just reserved for the Saturday after Thanksgiving.”

When you shop small, you’re investing retail dollars into your community. You’re helping artisans, crafters and inventors create unique products that can’t be found in department stores, and you’re contributing to your neighbors’ continued employment.

The Wilson Times — itself a small business and one of only two remaining independently owned daily newspapers in North Carolina — encourages its readers and advertisers to shop small today and throughout the Christmas season. The money you spend on gifts for your family, friends and co-workers can give local businesses a much-needed boost.

Earlier this month, 28,778 Wilson County residents and more than 3.7 million North Carolinians cast ballots in the midterm election. Imagine what we could do to lift up our hometown shops, restaurants and service providers if each voter made it his or her mission to shop local this season.

If that comparison sounds odd, it shouldn’t. When we choose where to spend our money, we’re essentially voting with our wallets. It’s a real-time referendum at the cash register, and the results of consumer elections determine which stores struggle and which ones thrive, who expands operations and hires more help and who contemplates closing the doors.

Elections are an everyday occurrence. Ballots are thin and green and crisp, and though they aren’t distributed equally, everyone’s vote still counts.

Consumer activism drives business decisions. Last year, a careless corporate policy temporarily forbade Salvation Army bell-ringers from collecting donations outside Belk stores. Loyal customers responded by withholding their patronage until the decision was reversed. In the end, it was a win-win — the bell-ringers returned to Belk and the store won its customer base back.

“Consumers must realize and harness the collective power they have to effect change in the marketplace,” we wrote in a December 2017 editorial on the lesson Belk learned. “They also should wield that power responsibly. Voting with your wallet means rewarding those who do right, not just punishing those who do wrong. It means choosing to shop local and supporting small businesses whenever possible.”

We hope Wilsonians will vote with their wallets this season and support the local businesses that help our community prosper.

That doesn’t mean Christmas wishes for name-brand toys and electronics must go unfulfilled — and that’s perhaps the only place our voting metaphor falls short. Instead of an either/or conundrum, think of it as a ranked-choice election that can produce multiple winners.

It’s OK to hit the big-box stores, too — after all, they also contribute to our tax base, employ many of our friends and neighbors and help improve our community’s quality of life. Just make sure you’re not overlooking the small-town merchants who proudly serve as Wilson’s business backbone.

Local artwork, handmade jewelry and small-batch craft beer would be a nice addition under the tree to go along with the clothing, games and toys. There’s enough room beneath the branches for both.

So take some time this weekend to shop Wilson County’s small businesses. With a high percentage of each dollar reinvested locally, it’s quite literally the gift that keeps on giving.

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