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Readers sound off on local business

A few weeks ago, Scene ran its annual holiday and gift guide. Regrettably, the gift guide was annotated and not nearly kind enough to many of the local businesses that keep Cleveland stocked up on goodies. Steve Presser of Big Fun wrote in to correct our mistake, and though it arrived after press deadline for the pre-Christmas shopping season issue, there's still plenty of time, plenty of bills pulled from grandma's Christmas card and time to spend. And his letter is a reminder that while it's nice to patronize local businesses during the holidays, it's even nicer to patronize them year-round.

That Local Thing

It's the holiday season for all of us, especially retailers.

For the past few years, I have taken the letter below and added a paragraph or two. I guess you can call that creative reuse or self-plagiarism. The issue of local independent businesses is near and dear to my heart and so important to the viability and the vitality of our neighborhoods. We must all make a conscientious effort to support local businesses, from the neighborhood bookstore and record store that face the toughest battles of us "indies," to the locally owned music clubs who struggle to keep afloat.

It's five years from my first letter, dated Holiday Season 2007, and I finally believe there is light at the end of the tunnel. Business is picking up. Most retailers are finally saying good-bye to decreased annual sales. Maybe it's the economy and maybe it's community coming together to support local businesses. Bottom line: It feels good and we all say thanks. So in the spirit of my annual independent business holiday letter, here we go again:

"I hope this message finds you and your family in good health. We all cannot avoid the constant barrage of the negative news about the economy. It's in the newspapers, magazines and radio. Its reality — we've been in a full-blown recession for over a year. Sadly, most of the retail doom and gloom has been focused on the Big Box retailers. Their numbers are down, but those pale in comparison to the hurt this down economy has put on small independent stores.

"I've talked to many businesses across the board and nearly all are experiencing a very serious downturn thus far this holiday season. In some cases, we're talking 40+ percent decreases in sales from last year (which, by the way, for most was a down year from the previous year, 2006. For these independent stores, the holiday season represents 25 percent of their annual sales — the holiday season is a "make it or break it" scenario.

"Compound this with increasing cost of goods, skyrocketing utility rates, rent hikes, taxes and well . . . you don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out the negative consequences. So why am I sending this email? It is more than a gentle, subliminal reminder. It's a plea! Support your local independent retailer this holiday season.

"I fear many will not survive the winter. We talk about where we live and why we choose certain neighborhoods. We talk about what we value and sometimes we don't put a price on what it means to us. What about customer service? What about product knowledge? I could go on.

"Remember it is many of your local merchants who donate to or sponsor events with organizations you are familiar with. Studies show a large percentage of dollars stay in a community when you buy local vs. leaving the state with an online or big box purchase.

"Sadly, if a local store closes, it not only becomes an empty storefront (in this economy, they're not lining up to rent spaces) but the trickle down from this loss affects many — the local accountant, lawyer, insurance broker and printer, to name a few. So you really know many who are or would be affected by the closing of a local 'Mom and Pop.'

"So, please, during this holiday season, try to spread the 'Good Gospel' — support your local bookstore, record shop, boutique, hardware store, coffee shop and toy store. Shop at the galleries and support local artists. Go out and support the small music clubs that hire local musicians. Eat at independent restaurants.

"Put the word out on the street. Forward this email. Tell your neighbors, friends and coworkers. Teach your kids about the importance of supporting local businesses. It's all about education and awareness."

Steve Presser

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