You’ve got it all planned out this year. You’ve made your list carefully. Your fake sick call to your boss was an Oscar-worthy performance, enabling you to shop on a Wednesday afternoon and avoid the crowds. You sally forth to do your holiday shopping filled with a wonderful sense of peace on earth and goodwill toward men.

Five hours later you’re standing inside your front door looking like someone who got trampled by all eight of Santa’s reindeer. The carefully crafted list is now a knotted ball of frustration that could be fired from a musket. Everyone else in the time zone must have faked the same sick call, because there was overcrowding in every store to the point where oxygen was being rationed. Goodwill toward men vanished during your expletive laden battle with some lippy idiot over the last parking spot at the mall that wasn’t in a separate postal code and peace on earth got shattered during the free-for-all cage match that was the electronics department. Oh, and you forgot the scotch tape.

Happy holidays.

For some people, the above combination of commerce, carols and hand-to-hand combat in the city’s mega-malls is as much a holiday tradition as eggnog and “It’s A Wonderful Life”. They actually enjoy the crowds and all the hurly burly that goes with jostling to get one of only three gatecrasher specials that 600 people are vying for. However, if you are among those who don’t find the atmosphere of a food riot convivial, you might want to consider starting a new holiday tradition and giving yourself a gift in the process – do your seasonal shopping in your neighbourhood.

The Toronto Association of Business Improvement Associations (TABIA), is a non-profit umbrella organization working with the over 68 Business Improvement Areas within the City of Toronto. Business Improvement Associations or BIAs are collections of small businesses and property owners in a neighborhood, who invest their own money in “an ongoing effort to draw more prospective customers to their area by improving the attractiveness of the area and promoting it as a good place to shop, visit and do business”. TABIA and the BIAs are currently running a ad campaign to encourage people to shop in their own neighborhoods: “Think Big. Buy Local.”

The premise is simple. By keeping the small businesses and stores in our community healthy we keep our neighborhoods healthy. Healthy neighborhoods attract customers, tourists and ultimately new residents. Support for local small business perpetuates a cycle of gentrification and growth that ultimately benefits everyone in the area.

Some people feel they don’t get the same selection in smaller stores or the big discounts that larger retailers offer and there may be some validity in that, but smaller stores will have more unique, one-off items that will be more interesting and memorable to the recipient than yet another mass-produced sweater. And even if you pay slightly more, the extra dollars are staying in your community and not flowing to some parent retailer miles away.

So leave the annual ‘battle of the big box’ to those who enjoy Christmas pain and take a walk down the block. You’ll be giving yourself a gift by helping to keep your neighbourhood strong.

And don’t forget the scotch tape.
December 3, 7:51 PMToronto Social Commentary ExaminerJoe Varnell