This is a special time of year. The gift of giving brings out the best in people. We strive to be generous and thoughtful to those we care about.

The magic of the holiday season is the whole package, one might say: lights and candles; music; cards; traditional meals and cookies; and piles of presents and smiles.

But it also is about purchasing the perfect gift for someone. We take great pride in a special present, one in which much effort or thought went into it. Those are the gifts we do not find in catalogs. They are the ones that cross our paths in town, on Main Street, or close by.

Here in Vermont we are blessed to live among so many creative people. And we are equally blessed to have locally owned businesses – some of them having been around for generations – to help us find that perfect gift. By supporting local businesses, you are investing in your community by putting your hard-earned money into the your economy – the one that supports you, your kids and family, your neighbors and friends. When someone opens their own business, they hire local people, pay local taxes, and source goods locally. When you shop local, you expand opportunity for others in your community.

Simply put: Compared to chain stores, locally owned businesses recycle a larger share of their revenue back into the local economy, enriching the whole community.

Locally owned businesses build strong communities by sustaining vibrant town centers, linking neighbors in a web of economic and social relationships, and contributing to local causes.

That’s what we all want. We want our Vermont downtowns to succeed and thrive.

Here are a few tips to make your shopping local experience that much better.

First, plan for it. Make the local shops in town your go-to every year. Make it part of the routine, your lifestyle. (And don’t just wait for the holidays; visit often and show your support by showing up.) Create your list and build it around what’s available in your community.

Second, interact with the merchants and their staff. Find out what is going on in their business. It might help you in your decision-making, or lead you to buy a different gift for someone else you know. Shopping does not have to be a chore. It can be a social experience (even in COVID).

Third, if you do not find something you think a person would like, buy a gift certificate. It puts money into the hands of the merchants for the holiday season, and it allows the recipient of the gift to buy what they would like from the shop or restaurant. It also guarantees foot traffic into the establishment in the future, perhaps at a time when consuming is less brisk. In fact, gift certificates from a business is the easiest of all gifts: merchants happy; purchaser happy; recipient happy; less wrapping; more time for enjoying the season.

Fourth, ask for recommendations. Don’t hesitate to reach out to local merchants to brainstorm gift ideas. If they do not have exactly what you want, chances are they can get it; or they may be able to provide a better option for you. Again, a little planning and a little chatting will yield better gift choices.

And lastly, don’t just thank the local merchants who helped you, go back for birthdays and special occasions, where you can continue your support throughout the entire year.

The holiday season is the one time of year where you can guarantee your support by showing up to shop local. But remember that what your business community has to offer is the real gift to us all.

And all you have to do is show up with your gift list.

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