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Unique items, service keep the little guys afloat

POSTED: November 8, 2009 1:00 a.m.

In a few retail stores, the Christmas decorations are already going up. The holiday season, like it or not, is upon us.

On the day after Thanksgiving, the big box retailers will be filled with folks looking for the bargain to end all bargains.

There are some fine major retailers and they contribute to our economy. But every business morning, some brave entrepreneurs unlock their doors in hopes that you will come through their door.

I have no doubt that many of you will spend some of your money at the big guys, and that's fine. But this is about the hard-working local businesses that are in every community.

A woman I know makes the most incredible cakes and pastries. She used to work out of a basement. A few years ago, she rented a storefront and the business is booming. I went in during the last few days of October and there is already a sign saying she is no longer taking orders for Thanksgiving cakes. That's the success of the American independent business at its finest.

I know a hardware store that carries a fine selection of pocketknives. The kind many fellows collect. It's not a fancy store, but you get a level of personal service that you don't find at many places.

Another young businessman in Georgia has found success with his seafood business that includes a Po' Boy sandwich that is on par with anything in New Orleans.

There are local gift shops that have items that are handmade by other entrepreneurs who have the unique ability to create things that make homes more charming. They are the kinds of things that you just can't mass produce.

Retailing in general has been going through some tough times. It's tough on big and small companies alike. But a drop in business for a small, independent retailer is sometimes enough to force its owners to close their doors or lay off their one part-time worker.

Perhaps there is a store that you've passed by on your way to work or even on your way to the big box. You thought it had a clever name or had something in the window that caught your eye.

Why can't this be the season that you stop in and just browse with a local shop that not only wants, but also needs your business? I don't know a single store in this state that charges a fee for browsing.

My parents are gone, but I know how difficult it is to find a thoughtful gift for parents. This might be the season that you find something incredibly unique for someone. There's a pretty good chance that you might find something that will make someone smile. Most times, it comes with a degree of personal service that you might not find anywhere else.

And even if you're going to the big box, try to go to the one in your county. That keeps sales tax dollars right here at home. Think about it, if you spend $100 at a store in another county, that's three dollars that your county doesn't get. It adds up.

Harris Blackwood is a columnist for The Times. His column runs every week in Sunday Life.



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