Shop local: But just what is “local?”

It’s Nov. 1, and whatever small level of restraint was being exercised by national retailers in pushing you to start your holiday shopping; safe to say it’s over. “Deals have never been better”; “Biggest sale of the year”; “Buy now – pay later” and a host of other overused headlines will now be used to lure you in and spend, spend, spend. They’re counting on our quasi-patriotic duty as American consumers to do what we’re called upon to do; that is – to consume.

Upon this backdrop Lake Media (that’s us), our area chambers of commerce and downtown business associations will likewise urge us to consume but to be more selective. We’ll all urge you to “Shop Local”.  And of course you should. But the slogan quickly loses meaning when it lacks definition. So what exactly do we all mean when we sing in unison “Shop Local”?

Simply stated, it involves you shopping at a store that employs local residents; local homeowners; local taxpayers. There was a time — and not so very long ago — where that definition was far narrower. When “Shop Local” was proclaimed in the ‘80s we wanted you to shop on Main Street; to resist the convenience of strip malls and fend off the allure of free parking and dozens of stores contained within a single shopping mall. Shopping local meant conjuring up the image of downtown Bedford Falls from It’s A Wonderful Life and replaying it here in Camdenton and Osage Beach.

For Christmas, 2013 shopping local means supporting a more diverse retail base. Where making that special gift purchase at Dogpatch or Victoria Station or Janine’s Flowers & Gifts is local; but so is shopping at Kohl’s or the Premium Outlet Stores or the newly open Dick’s Sporting Goods. Both ways, your holidaygift-giving dollars will circulate back into our local economy and allow the employees of these stores to spend their weekly paychecks to buy their friends and family members’ great holiday gifts; right here at home.

The highfalutin economic term that this phenomenon describes is called the Local Retail Multiplier. It estimates the additional economic impact of every retail dollar spent locally. And some economists (is this really a job?) estimate this multiplier to be as high a .66; so that every dollar you spend in Miller, Morgan or Camden County returns an additional 66 cents into our economy.

Confused yet? How about we simplify the argument? Like many things, “Shopping Local” may be best explained by what it is NOT. It is not driving to Columbia. It is not spending a December weekend in Kansas City or St. Louis shopping until the mall stores close at midnight. And it is most certainly not shopping online, whether on a unique specialty site or – here it comes – on Amazon (referred to hereafter as the “A” word). The Local Retail Multiplier of each of these decidedly nonlocal actions is a big fat ZERO.

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "isn't this an unwinnable battle and ‘Shop Local’ a slogan that will be summarily ignored by millions as Cyber Monday pushes Black Friday further and further into the background?" Not so fast! Yes, the "A" people (Amazon) reported last week that their third quarter sales increased by 24% over last year. Yes, analysts expect that trend to continue in the “Christmas quarter”. But founder Jeff Bezos also reported that his "A" troops lost $41 million for the quarter. That’s right – they lost money – again.

So yes, you can likely buy some things cheaper online. And yes that’s a big deal and yes our local merchants ought to (quickly) figure out an e-commerce alternative. But is it really too "Bedford Falls-y" to go Christmas shopping locally on a brisk November or December evening? Is it asking too much to "experience" shopping; to ask real people for advice on what to buy for our son, or daughter, or long-lost Uncle Fred? Is it asking too much for us to realize that items available right here are more than sufficient to brighten up the Christmas morning of those on our gift list?

No it's not. And as a bonus you'll be feeding our Local Economic Multiplier and doing your patriotic duty as American consumers. Happy “local” shopping everyone!

John Pfeifer is Vice-President of Sales Development and Training for the Community Division of GateHouse Media Inc. He has a journalism and advanced business degrees and has spent his career in the media industry; selling, coaching, managing, writing and shopping locally.