Independents’ day

This Saturday, November 24, is designated, “Small Business Saturday.” With that in mind, and with the holiday shopping season upon us, I thought I would take this opportunity to talk about one of my heroes: the small business owner, the independent retailer.

Making your list, checking it twice, and shopping small: This Saturday, Nov. 24, is “Small Business Saturday,” the perfect time to visit local independent retailers for gifts this holiday season.My father is one of these heroes, a pharmacist, now retired, who owned a small, independent drugstore for most of the years I was growing up. My brother and I both worked in the store from the time we were around 5, at first bagging customers’ orders and dusting the shelves, and later helping shoppers choose items (I particularly enjoyed helping the men pick out perfume and boxed chocolates for their wives on Christmas and Valentine’s Day) and working the cash register.

We knew most of our regular customers by name, and we also grew to know their back stories, as well as what they usually purchased … Peter, the gregarious Irishman who owned a local funeral parlor and liked peppermint gum, for example, or Mr. Clark, an older gentleman who had a penchant for the cherry-flavored cigars my dad carried.

Each Christmas morning, my brother, my dad, and I would work (the store was open from 8 to 1 on Christmas Day) so the rest of the employees could have the day off. My father would pull a box of Russell Stover chocolates off the shelves to open for the customers, who would come in to buy last minute gifts and cards for their loved ones, or maybe just to have someone to talk to on what might otherwise be a very lonely day. It felt like we — the shoppers and the staff — were one big family, and this was always one of my favorite days to work.

Even today, there’s nothing I love more than entering an independent retail business and finding a child standing on a stool beside his or her parent at the cash register, learning the business from the the ground up. It’s a wonderful way to instill a strong work ethic in a child, and I think it helps foster community spirit.

While I shop in a variety of retail establishments, from online to the big box stores to retail chains, I try and support my local independents, who may not be able to compete with the big guys in volume or price, but who realize that providing the best possible customer service and product knowledge will encourage their customers to keep coming back.

The independent retailer is responsible for making sure his or her store is run well and carries what the customers need (my dad may not have had as many shampoo or toothpaste options as the local CVS, but he always seemed to have what people were looking for). Most independent retailers don’t have anyone in “corporate” to call if the computer system crashes, the cash register breaks, or the roof leaks. They have to take care of it themselves.

As you are considering gifts for family and friends this holiday season, then, please remember to support those smaller, independent stores that are right in your own backyard. They need you just as much as you need them.