Many of us will be looking to score amazing deals this Black Friday or Cyber Monday. But, every time you load up your online shopping cart or head to a big-box store a few towns away, there’s a hidden cost for your own neighborhood. When people don’t shop locally, small businesses feel the strain and municipalities lose out on valuable sales tax dollars.
“If the whole world shifts to online shopping, what are the ramifications for us?” says Betsy Baer, executive director of the Glenview Chamber of Commerce. “We are not going to maintain that ‘Main Street’ feeling if we don’t shop in the stores.”
Many beloved local stores have been hit hard by the major shift to online shopping in recent years. Megan Van Treeck owns Glenview’s Irish Connoisseur, which sells Irish crystal, jewelry and other gifts. The store has been in business for 30 years, and Van Treeck says she is making half as much as she made 20 years ago — a dismal trend echoed by many other small business owners, many of whom have not survived the recession and consumers’ growing preference to purchase online.
“I’ve had people come in and say, ‘I can get this exact same item online, and I don’t have to pay tax and it’s free shipping,’” Van Treeck says. “And, I don’t think they understand the ramifications for their community.”
When people don’t patronize local businesses, the obvious consequence is that stores can’t stay open, and shopping districts lose their vitality and charm. But, there’s another ramification that hits even closer to home. Glenview Deputy Village Manager Don Owen says sales tax is currently a bigger revenue generator for the town than property tax. That means, at least theoretically, shopping locally might actually help to keep your property taxes lower (talk about a win/win!).
“Every time we have a new commercial development in town, it strengthens revenue for the Village of Glenview and lessens the need to increase property tax,” Owen says.
When you make a point to shop locally, you may be surprised to discover all of the different products and services you can purchase right in your hometown. Last year, Van Treeck helped to organize Glenview’s first “Wedding Walk,” an event for brides-to-be that showcased all of the wedding vendors located in Glenview — including dress shops, florists, photographers, caterers and reception venues. The 2016 event is scheduled to take place on Jan. 31.
“You can plan every single aspect of your entire wedding without leaving Glenview,” Van Treeck says.
In some cases, you may pay a slightly higher price at a local shop than you’d find online, but you typically get the benefit of personalized customer service. Van Treeck says she happily takes the time to help customers choose the perfect present for a loved one, and she offers free gift-wrapping.
When they are successful, local businesses are able to give back to the communities where they operate. Shop owners often make cash or silent auction donations for school, church and other nonprofit fundraisers.
“One of the things I chuckle at is how many people hit me up for donations for schools or charity,” Van Treeck says. “I would love to know how much Amazon donates to your local school.”
As you begin checking items off of your holiday shopping list this weekend, consider the impact your dollars can have on your little corner of the world. “What do you want your village to look like? Do you want it to have a lovely shopping area?” Baer asks. “The only way to have that is to shop there.”
Want to support local businesses — and give back to area nonprofits — without leaving the comfort of your own home? Check out Make It Better’s Shop for Good, our e-commerce site that showcases local vendors and retailers who donate 10 percent of the purchase price for the items they feature to a worthy charity carefully vetted by Make It Better.
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