This year, shopping local isn’t just a good idea — it might be necessary for a merry Christmas

It’s always a good idea to shop local during the holiday season. In addition to the obvious, community-minded benefits of supporting your friends and neighbors, there are much-studied boosts that spending your money in town rather than online gives to the local economy. Last year, the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic and a case spike in November and December undercut local businesses’ ability to conduct in-person sales in quite the same way as in years past. But this year, the imperative for buying local is stronger than ever, thanks to everyone’s least favorite global trade phenomenon: the broken supply chain.

Being there for one another

From a person-to-person standpoint, perhaps the best reason to buy local is who it benefits. Small local businesses are owned and run by community members; shopping there ensures that our friends and neighbors will have a happy holiday season themselves. The more we support each other, the healthier our community becomes. Here at the far end of the transportation network, that support is essential; if we aren’t here for one another, it’s tough to make a go of it. And there are plenty of practical considerations why shopping local and in person is better and more fulfilling: being able to try on ski boots before you buy them, asking a clerk for a book recommendation for someone who likes Alaska true-crime stories, running into a friend and catching up over a coffee, and on and on.

Revitalizing Alaska’s economy

There’s also a strong economic case for the positive effects of doing your shopping close to home. When we spend money online, that money goes straight out of Alaska to wherever the seller is located, and odds are it doesn’t come back. But when we spend money locally, that money stays in our local economy, and it may cycle through from buyer to seller several times. That creates a powerful multiplier effect, greatly increasing the positive economic impact of the initial purchase. And after more than a year and a half of the COVID-19 pandemic impacting businesses’ ability to operate as usual and customers’ willingness to shop in person, local businesses can use all the economic help you can give — and that goes for restaurants, too.

Avoiding supply chain and delivery system woes

It wouldn’t be 2021 if there weren’t an additional wrinkle affecting the holidays, and this one is a doozy: Pandemic-induced hiccups in manufacturing production and shipping of raw materials, coupled with stronger-than-expected demand for many retail items have cascaded to cause widespread shortages of everything from cars to cookware. With the big uptick in orders at the end of the year, delays and back-orders are rampant. In short, local businesses may well be your best bet at ensuring there are actually gifts under the Christmas tree, as they’re selling items that are already physically present here. Given mail delivery slowdowns and the usual package glut in December, it’s best to take as few risks as possible when it comes to buying gifts. And it might not mean paying a higher price, either: Although the stereotype is that online retailers have cheaper prices than local shops, often that price advantage is negated by exorbitant shipping costs — and some local merchants will even price-match to cover any difference.

Given the continued uncertainty wrought by the pandemic — and the attendant difficulties in maintaining all the usual holiday traditions — it might be hard to avoid a Scrooge-like attitude toward the season, but there’s plenty to celebrate. Thanks to vaccines and boosters that weren’t available at this time last year, it will be safer for many of us to gather with our families. And local businesses are happy to help make sure that your needs are taken care of when it comes to gifts for family and friends. Let’s make sure they have a merry Christmas, too.