As the holiday season draws near, Northwest Indiana consumers gear up for the shopping season. Many shoppers plan their Thanksgiving weekend around Black Friday ads, while others scope out the opportunities presented by Cyber Monday.

But another shopping special coming up is Small Business Saturday. On Nov. 28, small business owners ask consumers to think about the benefits of “Shop local, stay local.”

Why small business is large

According to statistics from American Express, over 88 million nationwide consumers participated in Small Business Saturday in 2014. The number of local consumers who participated are unknown, but not for lack of trying.

Rex Richards, president of the Valparaiso Chamber of Commerce, says that the chamber does everything they can to promote small, local businesses.

“We promote our local shops, not just on Small Business Saturday, but every day of the year,” Richards says. “We have over 800 chamber members, and over 500 of those businesses are family-owned enterprises. They are the backbone of our local economy.”

Dave Ryan, president and CEO of Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce, says they believe the shop local concept is so important that all of the local chambers gathered to work on promoting the initiative.

“Three years ago, all of the chambers in the region came together to work on a promotion and education plan for the shop local concept,” Ryan says. “It was a regional effort by all of the chambers in Northwest Indiana. The topic was so important to all of us that it was easy to come together for this common goal.”

Sue Reed, president and CEO of the Crossroads Chamber, stays very involved from the regional aspect. “It’s not just shop in your hometown,” she says. “It’s a message to shop in regional Northwest Indiana.”

Impact on the local economy

According to small business advocacy groups, every $100 spent at local independent shops returns $68 to the local economy. “That’s a huge investment in our community,” Richards says. “That money helps to fund salaries for local employees, many of which are neighbors.”

Ryan points out that local businesses pay taxes to their community, something Internet shopping does not. “When you go online and shop, you trade convenience for community,” he says. “Those businesses do not pay taxes in your community. That’s money for schools, parks and other things that we let slip away.”

Reed shares statistics on the impact of shopping local. “When consumers shop local, 60 percent of the tax revenue stays in the region,” she says. “That number drops to 40 percent if you shop at big box stores. In addition, it drops to zero if you shop online. We get nothing from online purchases from Amazon or Overstock.”

It’s not all about money

Karen Maravilla is the owner of It’s Just Serendipity, a shop located in downtown Hammond that sells antiques, furniture and other unique treasures. She is also the president of the Downtown Hammond Council, and has worked tirelessly in her efforts to revitalize downtown Hammond.

“Big box stores seldom participate in community events,” she says. “If you go into a chain store and ask them to sponsor a community car wash, they’ll tell you to call corporate.”

Many small businesses that Maravilla works with put herculean efforts into local charity and not-for-profit endeavors.

“The Northwest Indiana Symphony Orchestra and South Shore Arts are two local organizations that count on the residents of our region,” she says. “It’s local business owners who help through their efforts.”

Chris Marolf, owner of Old World Market in downtown Valparaiso, concurs. “We partner with the Porter County Foundation to help out with local charity work,” he says. “We also participate in many local fundraisers for community churches and schools.”

Fair Oaks Farms is a member of the Crossroads Chamber. As an example of helping locally, they host hundreds of school trips annually to support local education of agriculture.

Home sweet home

Marolf offers a unique perspective on why small independent business is the catalyst for communities. “Each community needs to have its own identity,” he says. “Downtown Valparaiso, for example, prides itself on having a diverse assortment of unique shops to attract town, county and region residents. Those are all small, local business owners who are committed to their community.”

Maravilla couldn’t agree more. “Much of our revitalization work in Hammond revolves around the arts,” she says. “There are several art galleries in downtown Hammond. The small business owners work together to not only build up their individual businesses; they each promote and support the art community. It helps give our town an identity people can commit to and relate to.”

Rosemary De St. Jean is the owner of Rosemary’s Heritage Flowers, just south of Crown Point square. “It’s as much about building friendships and a relationship as it is business,” she says. “Yes, we are a full service floral shop. But, we are also a friend, a neighbor.”

Rosemary’s shop will host its annual Customer Appreciation Day on Nov. 15. They will give away door prizes and put out their traditional Italian spread at this highly anticipated event.

The price tag for the convenience of a big box store or an online purchase is far greater than many people realize. This holiday season, and beyond, your local merchants ask that you look past the obvious and make a commitment to your community.

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