Keep It Local

Commentary by Bob Schaller, Dept. of Economic Development, St. Mary's County

Former U.S. Congressman from Massachusetts Tip O'Neill coined the phrase, "All politics is local" to underscore that what matters most is serving your constituents back at home. O'Neill served 34 years in the House including ten as Speaker of the House — most of was which under the opposite party's rule in the White House. His record stands as the longest consecutive serving Speaker in U.S. history. He was both smart and humble as a consensus builder who really understood his job and whom he served. I use this intro to the first point about what really matters to all of us is serving local needs. Institutions, including businesses, fully understand this. Whether it's your church, school, post office, grocer, employer, even political representative, most important decisions are made locally.

The 2010 holiday shopping season officially kicked off after Thanksgiving holiday. We had Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday in rapid fire. Initial reports are mixed with Black Friday showing modest increases over last year while Cyber Monday's newfound craze to shop at your desk seemed to be strong, perhaps breaking $1 billion in single-day sales. Online merchants have figured out the age-old retail lesson: go to where your customers are, and today that's at work. Going forward this tradeoff of time (getting up at 3am) for convenience (waiting until the first day back at work) will only become stronger.

While Black Friday and Cyber Monday are primarily for large, national merchants, the first-ever Small Business Saturday was for locally-owned and operated businesses. The new Facebook page generated over a million likes in just a few weeks, perhaps a new record.

My wife and I visited Dyson's Building Center in Great Mills for their sidewalk sale on Saturday and the entire Dyson family was there in force greeting and serving customers. There were many items on sale or marked down. There was also one price that few, if any, national merchants (really) use: free. Yes, FREE, as in nothing, nada, please take it. Like at a yard sale by noon. Why? Excess inventory. The difference between a local independent and a national merchant is that the local business has no district or regional office to rid them of any excess. In fact, in many cases a chain store's floor and shelf space is tightly controlled by corporate. This is the economics of modern retail.

So what about the free stuff? Or the $1 or clearance bins at other hardware stores? It's simply what you make of it. At some point these items are donated to the Habitat ReStore or other local donation center. I reference Dyson's as just one of several hundreds of local merchants that offer just about anything needed this holiday season, or anytime.

A new "I Buy St. Mary's" campaign was launched earlier this year to promote local, independent businesses. Go to to learn more. Watch the short video clip.

Local shopping events are scheduled in Lexington Park and throughout the County. Most local media — whether print, electronic, cable or radio — are featuring shopping opportunities at local businesses. Even the museums at St. Clement's Island, Piney Point, and the Navy Air Museum at Gate 1 have plenty of local merchandise. It may take a little longer to travel to some of these places, but it will be well worth it. You might even find something free, like hot chocolate or apple cider, or caroling or maybe, maybe excess inventory.

Thanks for keeping it local.

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