Holiday shopping on Small Business Saturday

By Features Consumer Reports

Sandwiched between the craziness of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Small Business Saturday is the "good" post-Thanksgiving shopping day. This year, American Express launches its fifth annual Small Business Saturday, with a feel-good campaign under its own registered trademark, complete with music from a Simon and Garfunkel soundtrack. When you use an American Express card at small business merchants, you can save $10 on up to three qualifying purchases.

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Editorial pages across the country are overwhelmingly supportive of Small Business Saturday, and consumers are encouraged by politicians to patronize local independent retailers. (The President, as in previous years, will probably buy another book.)  Small businesses, we're repeatedly told, still create most of the jobs in our economy. By supporting Main Street, we're supporting the community.

Yet it's difficult not to be suspicious, if not cynical. Politicians are obviously courting their constituencies, newspapers still rely heavily on local advertisers for what's left of their revenue, and American Express is, well, a credit card company.

While you're shopping small, check out our haggling tips for holiday savings.

But there are other reasons to shop local, ones that go beyond altruism, even for those who aren’t using an Amex card on Main Street this Saturday. When you shop local, two-thirds of the money spent will stay in the local economy, compared with less than 40 percent spent at a retail chain, according to BALLE, a non-profit organization championing the localist movement. Other studies reveal differing numbers, but the pattern is consistent: spending at local stores returns more stimulus to the local economy than chains.

And for additional local savings, consider local currency if it's available. Some communities offer local script that allows for greater purchasing power at local or regional merchants that accept it. Some of the more robust local currencies use local bank branches to exchange the currency. For example, BerkShares, the local script in use in Western Massachusetts, allows customers to exchange the local currency at a rate of $95 for 100 BerkShares. The dollars remain on deposit at the bank, so there’s no chance of the local currency ever “expiring”.

Chris Horymski

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