Shop local this holiday season

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By Correne Martin

To save time during the holiday hustle and bustle, for quality products and services, and for trustworthy knowledge and experience, look no further than the Prairie du Chien area for gift shopping this year. Supporting local, independent merchants keeps the community thriving so those businesses can be available when you need them.

“If you don’t give back to them, they can’t give back to you,” said Theresa Mezera, owner of Panka Shoe Store. “Every time we’re asked to give to proms, school trips, benefits, church dinners, EMS—all fundraisers and charities—it’s so much easier to give to someone if they’ve been in my store.”

National Small Business Saturday, Nov. 28, is a day that rallies communities to support their local small businesses and help the economy to flourish by providing local jobs and revenue that will multiply and recirculate within the area. Held the Saturday after Thanksgiving, Small Business Saturday is in its sixth year and has captured the attention of 55 percent of consumers, according to the National Federation of Independent Business and American Express.

Prairie du Chien, Marquette and McGregor and the surrounding communities have plenty of retail shops, studios, restaurants, salons, boutiques and food markets who are more than happy to guide you to the most perfect gifts for your family and friends, who guarantee follow-up service even after the presents are opened.

“Shopping the local guy gets you the knowledge, experience and service after the sale,” commented Alex Althof, owner of Althof’s Television Center. “We can help solve a lot of problems, even over the phone. And with us, you get the same face every time. You might spend a little more, but the big name shops aren’t going to give you that.”

At Sports World and the Sports World outlet store, the employees know the products well and they’re able to spend time with you, explaining the items, as you consider your purchases. “The sales associates in the mall stores may not be as knowledgeable, even if you can find somebody to wait on you,” Co-owner Todd Yeomans pointed out. “Small businesses also tend to buy unique to themselves, so you’re going to see product that you won’t in the big box stores.”

Studies begun in 2002 by Civic Economics showed that 47 cents of every dollar spent at local retailers and 65 cents of every dollar spent at local restaurants stays local. Compare that to the 14 cents at chain retailers and 30 cents at chain restaurants that stays local from every dollar collected. After a local purchase is made, it multiplies in three ways: 1) Spending done by a business in the local economy supports operation of the business, including inventory, utilities, equipment and pay to employees; 2) Dollars the local business spends at other area businesses recirculate; and 3) Additional consumer spending happens as employees, business owners and others spend their income in the local economy.

“It keeps businesses strong enough to keep going and stay open and it keeps your neighbor employed,” Yeomans said.

“Small business shopping is important for the community at large, so you can keep those businesses here,” added Sue Tiller, owner of Tiller’s Furniture. “Right now, gas prices are low. But when they rise back up, people need to factor in the cost of gas and wear and tear on their vehicle as they head out of town. Quite often, our sale prices are going to match anybody anyway, and we try to patronize companies that produce products in the Midwest.”

Tiller noted that many shoppers feel that buying online is the way to go these days. “Furniture is not something that can be bought easily online and I doubt very much you can always return it for free,” she said. “We offer free delivery within a 40-mile radius and we stand behind our products. We work with people to meet their budgets. Your local businesses, especially the family-operated ones, are contributors to your community.”

Mezera has noticed the online shopping trend too. “Now people are coming in trying stuff on and then going to their computer, sometimes right in front of me (on their smartphone). I can help people work on their feet problems. They’re not going to get that on the Internet,” she said. “If we take our tax dollars somewhere else, those other cities are going to expand, not ours.”

In addition to her quality lines of shoes such as Red Wing, Dansko and more, Panka Shoe Store sells insoles, polishes, snowboots, cowboy boots, $1 shoes, purses, gloves and other accessories for women and men.

Lou Davis, owner of The Pickett Fence, said she offers package deals for those making big purchases at her store. “Everyone who buys a sewing machine gets a free class,” she said, “and if you buy it here, you don’t have to run to La Crosse every time you have a little question.”

She mentioned gift cards as the perfect gift that numerous local businesses always have on hand. For the frequent small business shoppers, punch cards and membership cards are commonly available as well.

She also noted that many consumers aren’t aware of all the unique, and oftentimes locally hand-crafted, goods Prairie du Chien area stores offer for sale. Many different price-points are typically represented at small businesses.

“A lot of people don’t realize we have a candy shop with 70 different flavors, and we offer free samples so they can try before they buy,” Davis advised. “We also do custom framing of photos, signed and numbered prints, fabric and shadow boxes.”

Althof’s, which is offering a 10 percent special off TVs on Small Business Saturday, said shoppers are usually surprised that they sell Dish Network systems, home theater systems, touch pads and home automation in addition to TVs. “You can control your lights and your thermostat from anywhere. Like, if you’re a snowbird, it will notify you if the temperature in your house gets below 40 degrees,” Althof said.

Valley Fish and Cheese, owned by Mike Valley, is another small business who is proud to meet local consumers’ needs. “We have a complete line of seafood and cheeses, fresh Texas oysters, fresh caviar, homemade candy, wood carvings, gift boxes and gift certificates. We also ship gifts all the time,” he said. “We spend time with our customers. We offer free cooking advice and recipes, give samples and have that personal one-on-one service. When people ask a question, we know the answer.”

So as you decide where to shop for Christmas presents this year, stop and think about whether you can buy local before looking elsewhere. You won’t regret the small-town quality and value, friendly and knowledgeable customer service, and locally-produced and unusually hard to find hidden gems. Save yourself the time and hassle; everything you might need or want is sitting in a local business waiting to be wrapped. By the way, they’ll probably even gift wrap it for you.

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