PRESS EDITORIAL: Make Shop Local more than a one-day event

It was called Small Business Saturday, or Shop Local Saturday. In Port Washington, it could also have been called Throwback Saturday, because it was like old times downtown.

Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021, was a crisp winter day, but the scene recalled Friday nights decades ago in Port Washington, when all of the stores were open and there were so many shoppers that a policeman was often on duty to direct traffic at the intersection of Franklin and Main.

Small Business Saturday was the biggest business day seen in downtown Port in years. Sidewalks were crowded, Franklin Street traffic was bumper to bumper and stores—most of them locally owned small businesses—were packed and charge-card processing devices were running at full speed.

Stores were so jammed with shoppers that the Ozaukee Press photographer could hardly get a clear shot of Wisconsin Workforce Development Secretary Amy Pechacek when she visited Port shops that had received Main Street Bounce Back grants from her department. The state assistance was aimed at aiding retail businesses that were starting up or expanding into vacant spaces, and judging from Saturday’s success, it certainly hit its target.

That success was a bracing tonic for a business district that, like so many other community downtowns, had endured the loss of local customers to urban malls and internet shopping and then the devastation of the pandemic recession. But it may also have been significant as a rediscovery of the simple pleasures of small-town life, which include strolling to shops behind nestled storefronts and interacting with their friendly owners and employees to buy Christmas gifts.

That life exists in a world far different from the Christmas shopping phenomenon as it is presented by the national media. Television news programs regularly trot out an expert business commentator who portrays holiday gift buying as a stressful, high-anxiety exercise marked by urgent admonitions to act fast or miss out on the most coveted electronic toys (for children and adults) and dire warnings that it may already be too late to escape the shame of failing to be an adequately generous Santa.         The detested supply-chain grinch is to blame, of course. How a nation whose people have lived with a pandemic for almost two years and suffered through its layoffs, lock-downs and school closures, not to mention its grim health consequences, can feel threatened by transportation hiccups that could mean that must-have $1,100 XBox Series X video game console might not be available in time to be put under the Christmas tree is a subject best left to a sociologists’ conference.

Container ships loaded with Christmas largesse arriving from China and other offshore sources of goods may be sitting at anchor, unable to unload at overwhelmed U.S. ports, but local stores are full of gift merchandise, not XBoxes, of course, but items that may be interestingly original, even unique, and perhaps from local sources.

Small Business Saturday is a promotion developed a few years ago by the American Express credit card company, and it seems to have some staying power. Other downtowns in Ozaukee County and its environs had big days last weekend too.

In Port Washington, the Port Main Street organization plans to keep the momentum rolling with the return of its Christmas on the Corner event this coming Saturday, which will segue into the Christmas parade, capped off with a winter fireworks show.

These are especially inviting reasons to spend some time downtown, and they will be an important boost to the business district, but the best result of these efforts would be that people they reintroduced to the downtown will come back, even when there is no special incentive.

The benefits to the community of regularly doing at least some shopping locally—no one is saying people have to forego the instant, or next day, gratification of Amazon—are numerous. They include supporting the homegrown businesses that invest in the community, pay taxes to their city and school district and wages to their local-resident workers, contribute to local causes and with their diversity offer an alternative to cookie-cutter chain store offerings.

And most important of all reasons, shopping locally refreshes the vitality of the downtowns that are essential to the rewards of small-town living.

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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494
 

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