Our reporter, Carol Ladwig, usually handles our Question of the Week duties. But, with Carol on a much-deserved vacation. I shouldered the question of the week duties and went out into the pre-Thanksgiving crush to ask my question.
Black Friday was on my mind. So was Thanksgiving dinner planning. Small Business Saturday was also coming up. So I wanted to ask locals what they would shop for, locally, for the holidays. Pretty easy stuff, admittedly, but with holidays and early deadlines upon me, I wasn’t trying to solve society’s problems or probe the Valley’s deep, dark secrets this afternoon.
And yet, even the answers to some of our ‘softball’ person-on-the-street questions can be telling.
Many of the folks I bumped into really had to think for a moment They had some good answers: The North Bend Outlet Mall and the local Christmas tree farms, for starters. The grocery stores, of course. But how much more might have been uncovered, say, if I had spent the afternoon polling people? Would I have found promising patterns of local shopping? Or would everybody admit to hitting out-of-Valley malls and big box stores, or the virtual marketplace? More signs of retail ‘leakage’?
I’ve been at weekly papers long enough to have seen a familiar pattern. I’ve watched many small businesses start up with hope and ambition. They don’t always make it. About half of all retail and service startups fail within five years, according to census data as interpreted by the Small Business Trends website.
This weekend, I had the chance to go to two of our community holiday events. The tree lighting ceremonies that gather neighbors downtown are great, always getting bigger and better. In recent years, there’s been an increasing push by Valley organizations to do more, gather people together, have fun, and support community. I’d like to hope that this newspaper has been a positive part of that, because I’ve always recognized that such gatherings were special, and that celebrating our downtowns and helping our merchants is important.
I know busy commuters alway wants to shop at the big stores in bigger towns, in an effort to save a few minutes or bucks, I guess. Yet your own cities have something to offer of their own. More and more, they’re doing a better job of it, from the arts events that thrive in downtown Snoqualmie, to the new businesses, from mom-and-pop restaurants and gift shops to the new Bartell’s, that multiply in North Bend. You’ll discover eateries, gift shops, hardware stores, outdoor goods, smoothies, fresh bread, crepes, the list goes on and on. But only if your feet beat the actual pavement.
Around my Thanksgiving table, friends proudly related how they’d gotten pretty much all their shopping done online by Cyber Monday. Great. What a time saver. But how does that help build and sustain a community? What’s the end result if everybody does this—will we all end up replaced by software and drones?
I’m not going to hit you with the usual ‘Shop Local’ line. Everybody should already know how their dollars circulate and keep people employed in the Valley. Instead, I am going to encourage you to first discover what’s on the block in your community. Not just at Christmas, but all year, there’s stuff to buy and people to meet, more than what you expect.
Happy holidays. Get outside, away from your screen. See the Christmas lights. Talk to the men and women at the counter. Be part of your town.