Elise Patkotak: Support local businesses for their sake and yours

Elise Patkotak

We've all seen the commercials, right? They purport to show real Alaskans praising the new oil tax regimen of the Parnell administration. The ads urge us not to change it by voting yes on the referendum on this fall's ballot to revert to the Palin structure. Some apparently feel it taxed oil companies way too much.

Whether those are real Alaskans or not, and whether you believe an ad suggesting we leave a tax break in place being run by the groups benefiting by those tax breaks, one thing remains true. We need local jobs that support local families and allow this state to continue to flourish and grow. Those ads are spot on in highlighting that need even if one questions their suggested resolution of said need.

Living in Barrow for so many years meant that I was quite limited in my ability to pick and choose which companies to use to meet my daily needs. There was one bank in town. If you didn't bank there, it meant doing a lot of banking by mail... and yes, Virginia, there was a time before the Internet when using businesses outside of your community meant actually affixing a stamp to an envelope and waiting days, if not weeks, for a response.

There were a couple of grocery stores in town. One or two of the smaller ones were locally owned. A large company owned the big one. Your choice of shopping was based on price and availability. No matter how much you might have wanted to support a local business, sometimes you just couldn't because they simply couldn't compete with large enterprises in prices or variety of goods available.

Then I moved to Anchorage and found there were choices. I had multiple financial institutions from which to choose. I had multiple food emporiums vying for my grocery dollars. There were restaurants galore and more coffee stands than could be visited in a year of daily lattes. Quite frankly, it was all a bit overwhelming at first. So I stuck to what I knew. I continued to use national institutions for my financial needs and continued to shop at places I could just as easily find in New Jersey as Alaska.

But over the years, I've come to see the true value in bringing my business to local establishments. I've come to appreciate and enjoy working with institutions that value me as a customer and as a friend and neighbor in their community. I love being able to call a local number and get a fairly immediate response without having to dial an 800 number and then go through three or four quasi levels of supervision, to get the exact same stock answer despite my particular situation.

Probably my favorite experience in that regard was a discussion I once had with a company that had advertised free shipping in the continental US. When I expected to be included in that deal, they told me that Alaska obviously didn't qualify even though they were unable to figure out what other continent Alaska was on.

Recently, I took my first summer visitor on the 26 Glaciers Cruise out of Whittier. Some problems arose which caused us to be late returning, not see anywhere near 26 glaciers and find practically no wildlife to ooh and aah over as we cruised around Prince William Sound. The day after we returned, I called the company and asked what compensation they were offering for the relatively disastrous cruise of the day before. In order not to accidentally use my minor notoriety to get something that would perhaps not be offered to someone else, I used my guest's name in making the request.

There was not a moment's hesitation. The company supervisor came on the line and offered a full refund to both of us. No muss, no fuss, no questions asked. And that, my friends, is a local company doing what local companies can do best - immediately responding to their customers' needs in a professional and ethical way. It's the same experience I've had with the local bank I now use and its financial services division. There is no 800 number to dial, no supervisor reading from a script, just a neighbor trying to make things right.

Support local businesses and local employment. Bank locally. Buy locally. It's in all our best interests.

Elise Patkotak's latest book, "Coming Into the City," is available at AlaskaBooksandCalendars.com and at local bookstores.