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Think Local to Expand Holiday Cheer

Thanksgiving through the New Year is a make-or-break time for retailers and that includes local shops.

It’s often said Thanksgiving through the New Year is a make-or-break time for retailers. But it may also be a make-or-break time for the local economy.

“Three times more money is injected into the local economy when purchases are made with local businesses instead of national chains,” said Michael Duranko, who owns and runs “Local Coffee and Tea” at the Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota.

Duranko was speaking to the Sustainable Sarasota Community Partnership, but his message comes straight from the National Retail Federation. He cited one of the federation’s reports: “Every year people spend more than $704 per person during the holidays. Shifting just $64 per person to local businesses could generate 200,000 new jobs.”

This is certainly a make-or-break time for local artisans, who hope their creations will find their way under local Christmas trees.

"I'm cutting 30 checks a month to starving artists on consignment in my shop," said Sandy French. She is a stained glass artist working on 12th Street in Bradenton. 

On 10th Street, Beverly Kershaw looked out over an empty gallery on Thursday afternoon. Her Dancing Crane Gallery of Art was open but without customers.

"People are buying small items," she said. "Books, prints, magnets, I try to keep a variety of prices." 

In the back of their minds is the image of thousands of people lined up and eager to pay a big-box store cashier for gifts created offshore.

"We're programmed to go to the big box stores and stand in line," said Zoe Von Averkamp, the owner of Divine Excess Folk Art on 12th St. "If people shopped locally, the money stays here."

She and others in the Village of the Arts made the same comment. People are "desperate for things fresh from the oven," said French. "They want to give a gift one hand removed from the artist."

Duranko suggested instead of running to a local big-box store full of “made in China” merchandise that shoppers visit local artisan areas like the Village of the Arts in Bradenton or the Rosemary District in Sarasota. 

And the downtown farmers’ markets in Bradenton and Sarasota are ideal places to find gifts for someone special.

“Farmers’ markets are not just for produce,” he said. “Artisans sell there too.”

Duranko suggested expanding the “shop locally” idea to the entire year.

“You buy gifts for birthdays, anniversaries, weddings and hostess gifts," he said. "You can share your commitment to gift locally.”

Even if the item is not made locally, buying in a local store still puts money into the economy. The merchant makes a profit, can pay (or even hire) an employee, and buys from other locals. 

Duranko also suggested the idea of giving memberships in local organizations. “Who wouldn’t want a membership in the Ringling Museum of Art, or G-WIZ or Mote Marine,” he asked.  And he noted the Ringling School of Art and Design has a shop selling works made by its students. And of course the South Florida Museum.

Billions of dollars will change hands in the next few weeks. Consumers will decide who benefits  – locals or multi-nationals.

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