For many Americans, Black Friday has come to epitomize all that's gone wrong with this season of gift-giving and the long hours we'll spend in the coming weeks negotiating traffic jams, crowds, and the endless aisles of big-box stores. That's why we propose that New Englanders take a new approach to holiday shopping this year. Let's use this special time to slow down and really savor the places where we live: our public squares and historic buildings, our sense of community, and the rich variety of locally owned stores and restaurants that contribute so much to the flavor and spirit of our region.
There's no better place to begin than by reclaiming the day after Thanksgiving. Last year, a group in Oakland, California, came up with a great idea: "Plaid Friday." It's a simple concept. On Friday, shift away from the malls and “go local” instead. Stroll your neighborhood or downtown, stop by a few independent businesses, meet friends at a local coffee shop — in short, simply enjoy your community. And, while you're at it, wear something plaid. This mainstay of New England wardrobes is the perfect alternative to Black Friday. With its endless variety of colors and combinations, plaid is a fitting symbol of the diversity of New England’s cities and towns and the local entrepreneurs who give them life.
In case you are worried that Plaid Friday won't be as good for our economy and ailing job market as Black Friday, never fear. Even if you spend less this season, by shifting more of your shopping to locally owned businesses, you'll actually create more jobs here in New England than if you shop only at chains and online retailers. Here's why: Unlike national retailers, locally owned businesses rely on other local businesses for many goods and services, like accounting, printing, and so on. As a result, when you shop at a local business, a much larger share of what you spend is re-spent elsewhere in the community, supporting a variety of local jobs. Several studies have quantified this, finding that spending a dollar at a locally owned business creates about three times as much economic activity and more jobs in the region than spending that same dollar at a chain store. Given that each New Englander will spend an estimated $700 on holiday gifts this year, the potential economic benefits of shifting more of our purchases to locally owned businesses are sizeable.
Over the last few years, thousands of local businesses across New England have joined together to form organizations like Worcester Local First in Worcester, Mass., and Seacoast Local in Portsmouth, NH. These groups, which now number more than a dozen across the region, are working to rebuild their local economies and make New England a place where independent businesses once again thrive.
Many have come up with creative ways to ensure that going local this holiday season is an easy and appealing choice for shoppers. Here in Greater Boston, for example, under the theme, "Think Local, Thank Local," members of Cambridge Local First are donating a percentage of their sales during the week beginning with Plaid Friday to a local nonprofit, Food for Free.
So, even as the media spends the next few weeks anxiously monitoring cash registers at national retailers, it's worth remembering that a more significant indicator of New England's economic well-being and capacity to create jobs will hinge on how well our hometown businesses are faring.
Laury Hammel owns The Longfellow Clubs and is the Executive Director of the Sustainable Business Network and a founder of Cambridge Local First. Stacy Mitchell is a researcher with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and vice president of the Portland Independent Business & Community Alliance in Portland, Maine.