Spread the word: support independent businesses this holiday season

To the Editor,

It is holiday season for all of us, especially retailers. For the past few years, I have taken the letter below and added a paragraph or two (I guess you can call that creative reuse or self plagiarism). The issue of local independent businesses is near and dear to my heart and is so important to the viability and vitality of our neighborhoods. We must all make a conscientious effort to support local businesses, from the neighborhood bookstore and record store, which face the toughest battles of us "indies," to the locally owned music clubs that struggle to keep afloat.

It's been five years since I wrote my first letter—dated Holiday Season 2007. I believe that there is finally light at the end of the tunnel. Business is picking up! Most retailers are finally saying goodbye to the trend of decreased annual sales. Maybe it's the economy or maybe it's the community coming together to support local businesses. The bottom line is that it feels good, and we all say THANKS!

So in the spirit of my annual independent business holiday letter, here we go again:

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I hope this message finds you and your family in good health. We cannot avoid the constant barrage of negative news about the economy. It's in the newspapers and magazines and on the radio. It’s reality—we've been in a full-blown recession for more than a year. 

Sadly, most of the retail doom and gloom has been focused on the big box retailers. Their numbers are down, but they pale in comparison to the hurt the down economy has caused small independent stores. I've talked to many business owners across the board and nearly all are experiencing a very serious downturn thus far this holiday season. In some cases, we're talking more than a 40-percent decrease in sales from last year (which, by the way, was for most a down year from the previous year, 2006). For these independent stores, the holiday season represents 25 percent of their annual sales. The holiday season is a "make it or break it" scenario.  Compound this with increasing cost of goods, skyrocketing utility rates, rent hikes, taxes, and you don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out the negative consequences. 

So why am I writing this letter? It is more than a gentle, subliminal reminder. It's a plea! SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL INDEPENDENT RETAILER THIS HOLIDAY SEASON. I fear that many of them will not survive the winter. 

We talk about where we live and why we choose to live in certain neighborhoods. We talk about what we value, but sometimes we don't put a price on what it means to us. What about customer service? What about product knowledge? I could go on.

Remember that many of your local independent merchants donate to or sponsor events for organizations that are important to you. Studies show that a larger percentage of dollars stays in a community when you buy local versus when you purchase an item online or in a big box store.  Sadly, if a local store closes, it not only becomes an empty storefront (in this economy, people are not lining up to rent spaces), but the trickle-down from this loss affects many people—the local accountant, lawyer, insurance broker and printer, to name a few. You likely know many people who would be affected by the closing of a mom and pop store. 

During this holiday season, try to spread the "Good Gospel," support your local bookstore, record shop, boutique, hardware store, coffee shop, and toy store. Shop at the galleries, and support local artists. Support the small music clubs that hire local musicians. Eat at independent restaurants. Buy multiple gift certificates in small amounts to give away this holiday season.

Put the word out on the street. Pass this message on. Tell your neighbors, friends and coworkers. Teach your kids about the importance of supporting local businesses. It's all about education and awareness. 

Steve Presser

Steve Presser
Owner of Big Fun Toy Store in Coventry Village, and resident of Cleveland Heights

Read More on Letters To The Editor
Volume 5, Issue 12, Posted 3:18 PM, 11.21.2012