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BY MICHELLE VIJGEN & OCL STAFF

After the past two hurricane-ravaged years, it’d be nice to have a “normal” holiday season to close out 2018. The last two years were very taxing to local businesses that depend on the holiday season to stay in business. Please do all you can to “shop local” and keep as many dollars in our local economy as possible. Those dollars count now more than ever. They will keep our payrolls strong, our first responders safe, our people employed, and will help rebuild our community. When you shop over the next few months, please spend your money where your heart is. Thank you and blessings to you!

When asked to name a favorite spot to eat, shop, or grab coffee, most often a unique local spot is volunteered. These are the first places we hit up to host silent auction donations, support our local sports teams, and place ads in local theater programs. Whether we realize it or not, we often rely on these local businesses to help define our sense of place and our local character and support our philanthropic needs as a community. So, while every day is a great day to shop locally, there is no better time than the holidays to spend your money where your heart is.

Shop Local

While it makes us feel good to shop local, there is no disputing the positive impact shopping in locally-owned stores has on our community. If you pop into any local shop in town and spend $100 dollars, then $68 of those dollars will stay right here in our town. Hit up a big box store and only $43 of your $100 dollars will stay in town. By spending your money in local shops, you are supporting our schools, helping our police and fire departments, paving our streets, and improving our quality of life. Local business owners often support other small businesses, so you truly are paying it forward.

And, here is a staggering fact: nonprofit organizations receive, on average, 250% more support from small business owners than they do from large retailers. The economic impact is shocking.

Economic impact aside, where we shop, eat, and play makes our community a home. It is these local businesses that are imperative to keeping our unique, cultural identity alive and give us our St. Augustine character. Having a marketplace of small businesses allows us to buy, eat and drink what we want…not what a corporate sales team thinks we should buy, eat, or drink. Small business owners select products based on the needs of their local community — from you. It also means better customer service, as the business owners have a better understanding of the products they are selling and are more likely to take the time to get to know their customers and their needs. Also, you will likely never have to dial an 800 number and go through five minutes of prompts to actually get a human to help you on the phone.

If protecting the environment is important to you, then there is no question that shopping local should be your jam. Shopping at local stores and eating at local restaurants seriously reduces negative environmental impact. Local establishments are more likely to make purchases of locally-made products, which require less transportation, and they tend to set up shops in town or city centers. This means less local sprawl, and it contributes to the idea of a walkable city. Local restaurants support local farms by using produce that is in season, which means your food has a very short field-to-fork journey. And, along with one local business supporting another local business, the food that is purchased from local farmers is likely to contain less chemicals, more nutrients, and have less packaging that food purchased from far-away locations. Your environmental footprint just keeps getting smaller, while your economic impact gets larger.

Most of all, shopping local will strengthen our community. These businesses are owned by your neighbors. They go to your church, coach your kid’s soccer team, and line up behind you in the school carpool. You are supporting your neighbors, your friends, your town. You really are spending your money where your heart is. So shop hard this holiday season… and shop local. You’ll be glad you did.

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