Gabrielle Gould: The pleasures of face-to-face shopping

  • Kim Suarez makes adjustments to a display of boots at Zanna in Amherst. gazette file photo

  • via Facebook—

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

’Tis the season of gratitude, family gatherings, big meals, giving back — and shopping. The advertisements on television, radio, print and social media are inescapable: “Sales! Free delivery! 2 for 1! Buy Now!” The sales are so huge that many Americans are prepared to leave the Thanksgiving dishes in the sink and stand in line, possibly freezing, just to get into the big-box stores first while others are poised for Cyber Monday to hit “buy” before the sites crash from heavy traffic.

Elsewhere, while all this corporate mayhem is brewing, large and small towns, mom and pops, and intrepid entrepreneurs both young and seasoned, ask how they can compete with Amazon and big-box stores? The answer screaming back is they can’t, but the good news is that they don’t necessarily have to.

I recently learned of a study suggesting that there will be a 4 percent increase in spending this holiday season over last year and that 90 percent of adults say they will shop at brick-and-mortar stores. This 90 percent crosses many generations, from baby boomers to Gen Zers.

There is a heartfelt desire for a return to the face-to-face experience. The authentic, local feel of our retail and restaurants cannot be replicated online, in big-box stores or at a kiosk asking for your fast food order. The human connection is irreplaceable, everyone understands the ease of clicking now and having it arrive at your doorstep a day later, but few grasp the toll this puts on local communities.

This holiday season and every day before and after, I want to remind you to support your local stores and restaurants: buy local, eat local and drink local. I invite you to enjoy downtown Amherst! Spend extra time searching for the perfect book (new or used) at Amherst Books or Unnamable Books. If you do not have extra time, then speak with their wonderfully knowledgeable staff. I assure you will not leave disappointed.

Before you order stocking stuffers, Chanukah gifts or beauty products online, remember that all of our coffee shops, our myriad of wonderful salons and barber shops, offer gift cards to their stores and for every product you could possibly need! Swing in to Zanna or Clay’s for some of the friendliest, most personalized service that I have ever experienced and walk out knowing you received spot-on, knowledgeable advice on your gift purchases.

Shopping local is fun. You get to know your community better, the store owners and shopkeepers. These are your people. This is Amherst!

You can grab a hot cocoa or latte, get lost in your memories as you browse the awe-inspiring collection of records at Mystery Train, go back in time at Mass Vintage, make your child’s heart soar with a new bike from Laughing Dog (where with that purchase you have started a “forever” relationship with the team of bike specialists who will keep your bike in shape for years to come), and explore the myriad of offerings at A.J. Hastings.

Anyone can jump online and buy a board game, but when you walk into the Toy Box you see more ideas and options for games that inspire, teach and create lasting memories than you could ever have known were available. After you shop local, take a load off and enjoy a custom-made cocktail at any number of fabulous downtown restaurants, gather with friends for a bite to eat, get to know the staff at your favorite eatery, get to know the owner. These are the perks of supporting local.

When you buy local, the price might be a little bit more than the online discounters, but I want to remind you that those companies do little or nothing for our greater community. The big operators do not buy ads for our local sports teams and booster clubs, they do not donate gift cards or prizes to our local nonprofits for silent auctions or raffles, they do not write sponsor checks or show up at our local events to support our community. They do not pay into our tax base.

These are simple facts and our local communities cannot afford to lose your support. I invite you to spend your money where it returns to support the everyday things that make your life better. No drone can deliver the experience and benefit of spending your money where it remains in the community.

If the above words are not enough to convince you to keep it local this holiday season, the Amherst BID is adding a little extra incentive. The First Annual Red Ticket Month begins this Saturday and we have some big incentives to keep it local! Customers will receive a “red ticket” for every $25 they spend at participating downtown Amherst businesses.

Then, on Dec. 21, we will have a grand drawing where winners will be chosen. The first four winners will win $250 and the final winner $1,000. You must be there at the drawing to win, but we are encouraging those who cannot attend to donate their red tickets to a local charity or even a friend. More details are online at www.amherstdowntown.com.

Phew! Now let’s get serious. I will wrap this up with a sincere wish that you and yours have a very lovely Thanksgiving and heartfelt holidays. After writing 800 words about spending money and shopping I do want to remind myself and anyone reading this that there are so many without. Please consider working with your local human services agencies this holiday season to bring warmth and joy to those in need.

If you can, write checks to your local nonprofits before the end of the tax year: this can make a huge difference for a local nonprofit, be it $25 or $25,000, nothing is ever too small. Bring food to your local pantry, or help cook Thanksgiving dinner at your church, your survival center or wherever someone is preparing to help. Bring a dessert to a new mom next door who is likely overwhelmed with the prospect of dinner for the arrival of extended family, or invite the student or elderly neighbor who is alone this holiday season to join your table.

It’s amazing what can happen when we open our hearts and doors to those around us. We can all support our community in big and small ways.

Gabrielle Gould is the executive director of the Amherst Business Improvement District.