Dollars and sense

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The holiday shopping season has begun and much is at stake for local retailers. For some businesses, the monthlong period from Thanksgiving to Christmas can account for a third or more of sales for the year. Holiday shopping can make or break those businesses.

To date, it has not been a year most Steamboat Springs businesses want to celebrate. The latest sales tax report, which covered sales through September, shows overall sales are down 1.26 percent from 2001. In the month of September alone, sales totaled $22.8 million, a whopping 10.5 percent drop from the $25.5 million total in September 2001. That came after August sales were down 3.5 percent.

Given such numbers, it is no surprise the city of Steamboat Springs is worried about its finances.

The truth is, Steamboat Springs' economy, community services and amenities depend in large part on the success of its local businesses, and as residents, we should do our part to help them by spending our holiday dollars locally whenever possible. That's not to say we expect residents to support businesses that don't offer competitive pricing, quality and inventory just because they are local. That would be foolish such businesses are doomed to fail.

But that's not the case with most local retailers. Many of the businesses in town are sound stores that have been here longer than most residents. They have survived because they have earned the support of tourists and locals alike. But good practices can't always protect businesses from downturns in economic cycles.

Holiday shopping trips are something of a tradition for locals. But before heading to Denver or Grand Junction to shop, shouldn't we first check with local retailers to see if they have some of the items on our Christmas lists? True, there are items that may require a trip out of town to purchase, but how often during such trips do we also purchase items that we could have found locally?

And before we order from the variety of catalogues that come in the mail or make purchases from national retailers over the Internet, shouldn't we first check to see if our local retailers have such items in stock?

Colorado is a sales tax-driven state, and a portion of just about every dollar we spend goes to support a local government or school. Whenever practical, wouldn't we rather see those sales tax dollars help support our schools, parks, police and roads than someone else's?

And each dollar spent here is often spent here multiple times. For example, a dollar spent on a shirt at a downtown store, goes to purchase office supplies from another local store, which uses the dollar to pay an employee, who spends the dollar at a local restaurant, which uses the dollar to pay its local utility bill. In such a cycle, six or seven businesses are helped by the same dollar.

It has been a tough year economically, and the holiday shopping season will be critical for our local retailers. We can help by spending our shopping dollars where we live as often as possible. Ultimately, we all benefit.

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