By Bill Buchanan
It seems a little strange to be writing a column about Christmas. The temperature was over 90 degrees just a couple of weeks ago.
But still, today is “Black Friday”; the official or at least “unofficial” start of the Christmas shopping season. I’m not sure when today became designated the start of the shopping season. I always wonder just who gets to decide these things. Is it a secret committee, or is it just this one guy who comes out and says, “Ahh, I think today should be the start of the Christmas shopping season”— kind of like if the groundhog comes out of his hole and sees his shadow, it means six more weeks of winter. I never understood that one either. And I still can’t figure out how to tell when Easter falls each year.
At any rate, the season is upon us. And I would encourage each of you to do something —- give some serious thought to shopping with local merchants first. If you can’t find what you want or need, fine. Go somewhere else. But please give it a real try first.
Why? This is a great town. Many reading this column were not born and raised here. You came here from someplace else. You came here because you saw what a wonderful town Ojai is, and you said, “Why don’t we move here?” A lot of why this town is so special is due to the people who run some of our local businesses. They are your neighbors. They are your friends. They are the people who contribute time, money, goods and services to many of the nonprofit service organizations in this town. They are the ones who donate to locate programs. They are the ones who buy advertising banners for the high school football team. They are the ones who join the civic clubs like Rotary and put on projects that raise money for good works in the community. They are the people like the Ojai Valley Inn who hold fundraisers to benefit local charities like Help of Ojai, allowing them to do so much for the less fortunate in our community. Go to any fundraiser, charity event, or town-wide celebration like Ojai Day, and there will be scores of local business people who make it all possible.
That is one reason to shop locally. Another is that we have great stores here. There is always a tendency to downplay or even denigrate something that is local. The same merchandise in a store 50 miles away somehow seems more appealing or exotic. Maybe is the (false) sense of status associated with saying, “Oh yes, I got that in Santa Barbara” or “I found this in a cute little store in L.A.”
Well, we have lots of cute little shops here. People come here from all over to shop our unique stores. My wife proved this theory when she was in town a few weeks ago as she tore through Julia Rose & Co. like Sherman went through Atlanta during the Civil War.
I have heard all the comments in other towns about “Oh, their prices are too high” or “Oh, they don’t have what I want.” To that I would say, when was the last time you were actually in the store to see what they have and what their prices are? Don’t they deserve a look before you go elsewhere?
Ojai has wisely enacted a “no chain store” ordinance to keep this town from becoming a strip center on one end of town and a strip center on the other end of town with little or nothing in-between. That is a good start. But local shopper patronage is also an important component.
In the mid-’80s, I ran a newspaper in south Louisiana in a city about the size of Ojai. It was not nearly as nice a town, but the population was about the same. The city was an hour from New Orleans, and there was a mall in Baton Rouge about 30 minutes up the road, both of which took some customers from local merchants. The town had a family department and hardware store that started up in the 1830s, and celebrated its 150th anniversary while I was publisher there. The store had survived the Civil War, the Great Depression, World War II, the ‘60s, Vietnam and God knows what else. Wal-Mart moved into town, and this family-owned local store was gone within five years.
When the town was so devastated that it was featured on “Sixty Minutes” as a chain store victim, Wal-Mart abandoned their 40,000-or-so-square-foot building, leaving a gaping hole in the community. Then they invited everyone to come see them in their new “super store” across the river 15 miles away. So the city lost the sales taxes revenue as well.
If I was back in that town now, I would want to ask all those people who abandoned their local merchants one question: “Was it worth allowing your town to be ravaged in order for you to say you bought something in Baton Rouge, or to save 10 cents a roll on paper towels?”
Please remember Ojai for the holidays.