Katie DeMaris owns and operates the hardware store in town with her husband Ty. The couple left their jobs in the Quad Cities and moved back to St. Ansgar to re-open the local hardware store. EJ photo/Travis Charlson

Last weekend marked ‘Shop Small Saturday’ which saw customers get out and support the local community businesses here in St. Ansgar, just like countless other small towns across the nation.

And trust me — shopping local is BY FAR the best way to shop.

Sure, you could go to a supermarket or a big-box store. But Mason City and Austin are each 25-30 miles away from St. Ansgar, which means you’re going to waste at least an hour in the car driving and a couple of gallons of gas just to get there. And if the roads are bad, forget it — we all know humanity can’t be trusted to drive with any common sense during the winter months.

Plus, think of all the comic-book characters you’ve got to stand in line behind at the self-check out because that multi-bazillion dollar corporate mega-store, miraculously, ‘can’t afford’ to hire any cashiers. But, if you want to stand there and yell “I DID ALREADY” at the robot voice who keeps saying “please place the item in the bag”, be my guest. You better pay with card, too, cause there’s no way those crumpled bills don’t get spit back out at you.

“Anyone who wants a stronger, more vibrant community needs to support their small businesses every day.” – Quint Studer

Or, you could order online. This is often lauded as the “quick and easy” option, but you still have to wait at least a couple days for it to get there. Also, the package bounces around on the back of delivery truck for a few days, sits on your porch in the cold, rain and snow while you’re at work hoping and praying Sparky doesn’t chew it up before you get home this time.

Oh, and what happens if you get it and you don’t like it, or it don’t fit? Then you’ve got to go through the rigThemarole of digging the packaging out of the trash, bundling it back together and slapping a stamp on it, before sending up a prayer to the customer-service gods that you’ll get your refund in the next 3-5 business days.

What’s the worst that could happen by shopping local? Well, someone could smile at you when you walk in the door. You may have to resort to asking for help from someone who knows what they’re talking about. And don’t forget about the classic line “Oh, we don’t have it? I’ll order one in for you.”

Some people will argue that local stores are more expensive than other places. I don’t buy that argument, but let’s suppose it’s true — let’s suppose you save a nickel on a jar of peanut butter when you buy it at a corporate mega-store instead of the Food Center. Where does that money go when you spend it at a corporate mega-store? I haven’t the foggiest, but it doesn’t go into getting some decent robots that know when you have or haven’t placed an item in the bag, that’s for sure.

Where does that money go when you spend it at the Food Center? Well, maybe Jon gives a few local kids a job after school. Maybe he helps put his own kids through college. Maybe he sponsors your kids ball team, or donates to a local fundraiser. Maybe he has a tough day as a volunteer fire chief, and buys a beer at the Legion.

In any event — that money is likely to be put right back into this community, and that’s why it was heartening to see shoppers out and about on Shop Small Saturday. Many local businesses saw an uptick in sales, with lots of holiday shoppers stopping by to check out the deals.

“It’s actually one of our biggest days of the year,” Becky Gonnerman of Scent From Heaven Floral said, noting how the weekend’s sales bring in extra customers. Gonnerman also said this time of year tends to get a little busier for her business, as families are looking to pick out Christmas trees and churches are decorating with poinsettias.

Katie DeMaris of DeMaris Hardware said they were swamped for much of the day Saturday. Ty held down the fort  the day before on Friday, so they had contest to see who would make more sales over the weekend. (Katie won and it wasn’t even close.)

It almost goes without saying that when the local businesses do good, then the community does good too. These stores are the lifeblood of any community.

“You can shop whenever their doors are open,” says Rhea Landholm of the Center for Rural Affairs. “Upon taking that step inside, chances are you’ll get a friendly ‘hello.’ This likely is the small business owner. While shopping, the quiet is soothing. It gives you time to ponder that gift you’re looking for. Is it something your loved one will like? You can ask the business owner’s advice. They’ll be happy to chat with you. Sometimes they’ll make suggestions. If they don’t have the item you’re looking for, they may send you to a neighboring store that’s also locally-owned.”

While it’s great to see the community support amplified on Shop Small Saturday, it’s also important to remember that these stores aren’t just open for one weekend.

“Shopping small and local can and should be more than a symbolic one-day-a-year event,” says author, entrepreneur and small-business advocate Quint Studer. “Anyone who wants a stronger, more vibrant community needs to support their small businesses every day. They are the key to economic revitalization. They play a vital role in creating the ‘sense of place’ that gives a community its competitive advantage.”

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