Anne Horrigan Geary: Shop small and shop local this holiday season

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DALTON >> The term "Black Friday" means retailers' bottom lines are out of the red and into the black; but I think the term is ridiculous. It should be called "black and blue Friday" for the bruises those early shoppers receive jostling for position outside the big box stores, or getting trampled in the rush once the doors are open.

The whole notion of leaving a warm house and a delicious Thanksgiving dinner to go camping outside a suburban mall for hours makes the idea of swimming with sharks look playful. It's a perfect example of herd mentality on display; bison or deer would be smarter!

Retailers manipulate shoppers with the lure of special sales, and force their employees to go to work in the middle of the night. Who really wins? The corporate grinches and the Chinese manufacturers, that's who.

I'm all in favor of shopping, and buying Christmas gifts for loved ones, but I can't abide the retail industry dictating when we shop or what we must buy. When American Express came up with the idea for Small Business Saturday, I thought it was just another marketing tool, but I've changed my mind. Shopping at small, local businesses any time of the year makes good economic sense, but doing it during the glut-giving season is imperative. We need to support the locals who employ our neighbors and underwrite community activities.

While it is important to be a wise and thrifty shopper, it is also smart to see the big picture in buying goods and services. The money we spend at the local pharmacy or hardware store circulates in the area, shoring up our wobbly economy. If you want to see local shopping at its best, spend time at the farmers markets and farm stands all over the county. Talk to the folks who grow the food. Not only will you eat healthier, but you might learn a thing or two about different vegetable varieties or herbs.

I love meeting local producers, from the maven of maize on Partridge Road in Pittsfield to the apple growers of my eye in Lanesborough. And move over Vermont, maple syrup produced from Berkshire trees is second to none! Cheese from Williamstown — superb; milk from Lee — spectacular! Take a ride to the farms in the county and come away impressed. There is such a diversity of locally raised and crafted food products that we should be grateful to those who work long hours to provide them for us, and we should buy them for our everyday enjoyment, for holidays, and for gift_giving too.

Shop the local craft venues too. They provide small artisans with an outlet for their work, and often support local charities. You don't have to know how to knit to give the perfect baby sweater, just find someone who loves to knit and will sell you one at a reasonable price.

From woodenware to clothing to household decoration, you will find it all on the tables of local craft fairs and church bazaars. You will find me there almost every weekend, buying and selling too. I like the social aspect of meeting buyers face-to-face, and the atmosphere of holiday fairs is festive as well as economically advantageous.

The most important local shopping excursion occurs in a week or two. I'm heading up the hill to Windsor to buy my fresh, live Fraser fir, which will be the centerpiece of all our holiday decorations and the symbol of great joy and love.

Please join me today and every day in shopping small and shopping local. That's a wonderful gift to give ourselves and our local merchants.

Anne Horrigan Geary is a regular Eagle contributor.


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