Just the other day, a customer walked into a locally owned hardware store in his community just before closing time.
He needed two hard-to-find fuses for an ancient electrical system in his detached garage, a special outlet for that system and an unusual model of spark plug for his snowblower.
He was met at the door by a clerk who was sweeping out the entrance. The clerk put down his broom, put out his hand and said, “Let me see what you’ve got.”
He took the customer’s blown fuses, the cracked outlet and the charred old spark plug and quickly led him to the displays for each item.
Within minutes, the customer was in his car, hardware in hand, ready to fix his garage and clear his driveway.
He didn’t spend hours wandering wide aisles squinting up to see where the electrical parts were kept. He didn’t stare blankly at walls of items looking for just the right one. He didn’t wait around hoping for a store employee to pass by so that that employee could then spend 20 minutes trying to find the right person in that department with the knowledge to help him.
Maybe he paid a few cents more for his items than he would have at the giant chain home improvement store. But he got the items he needed quickly and expertly.
And when he needed a special blend of oil for that snowblower, he went back to that same small business.
This is the kind of service some of us remember. Like when the gas station attendant came out, pumped your gas, checked your oil and cleaned your windshield while you remained seated in your nice warm car.
It’s the kind of service that many small businesses still provide. That personal touch. The kind of service where if you have a problem with the item you bought or the dish you ordered for dinner or the cleanliness of the store bathroom, you’d get to talk to the business’ owner or the owner’s kid or a trusted employee, not some random manager.
This the reason why today, when you’re out shopping in the final ramp-up to Christmas, you should support small businesses as part of Small Business Saturday.
Small Business Saturday — sandwiched in between the corporate-owned Black Friday and Cyber Monday — is an opportunity to remind shoppers about the quality of the merchandise and the personal attention available at our local shops and restaurants and other businesses.
It’s a chance to go to your local downtown, be it Schenectady, Saratoga Springs, Glens Falls, Albany or any number of villages and local business districts, get out of your car and walk a few extra steps and reacquaint yourself with what local, independent merchants have to offer.
Many businesses today throughout the region are offering such enticements as discounts, free gifts, gift-wrapping services, cookies and coffee, and other special offers to bring you into their stores.
Take them up on it and see what they have to offer.
Not only will you find great deals and specials as part of the annual event, you’ll be supporting the local businesses that support local charities and organizations and fund-raisers, that sponsor the Little League teams and the youth soccer teams, and that pay local property taxes that are reinvested right back into local services like fire protection and road construction and social services.
It’s these small businesses that are threatened by the big corporate chains and their large-volume discounts and online shopping.
Yes, you get deals at those places.
But remember where a lot of your money is going — out of the community and into the pockets of corporate shareholders and investors.
Small businesses and locally owned merchants not only put money back into their communities through reinvestment, but they also keep millions of us employed.
According to a 2016 Huffington Post article on local employment impact, small businesses account for between 60 percent and 80 percent of all U.S. jobs.
Since 1995, small businesses are responsible for paying out 44 percent of the total U.S. private payroll.
Those employees are able to live locally, pay local taxes and reinvest their money into local services that we all benefit from.
Few of us will completely give up the convenience of ordering products online or give up the price and convenience of one-stop shopping in a big retailer. We all have gift lists bigger than our budgets.
But there are tangible and intangible benefits of supporting your local merchant that you can’t get from the chains.
And when Christmas is over, and one day in March or July you need some random part for a broken fixture, or are looking for a nice place to take your parents out to dinner, or want a quaint place to watch a game and have a beer, or desire a place to get your hair cut where you can ask for the same stylist you had last time, these local merchants are where you’ll be going.
So take the time today to become familiar again with your local businesses. Spend money there. Pick up some gift certificates so that the people on your holiday lists can experience them as well.
Be grateful for the local owner who has invested his livelihood in the community that you both call home.
Make Small Business Saturday a destination today and a habit 365 days a year.
It will be worth it in many ways more than you realize.
For information on participants and special offerings available on Small Business Saturday, visit www.americanexpress.com/us/