By Lea Johnson
21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — The economy is shaky, but most families don’t hesitate when it comes to holiday spending. According to the National Retail Federation, Americans will spend more than $465.6 billion for gifts, decorations, travel and entertaining during the holiday season, but where families choose to spend their money is just as important as how much they spend.
The NRF expects a 2.8 percent increase in retail sales during the 61 days of November and December compared to last year. Fred Crowley, senior economist for the Southern Colorado Economic Forum, said he predicts even more of an increase in local sales.
The military makes huge contributions to the city’s economic vitality through local shopping, according to Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce officials.
Colorado Springs supports the military members and their families of the four installations in the city. Signs boasting, “We support our troops!” hang outside many local businesses. Brian Binn, Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce Military Affairs Division president, said, “(Shopping locally) is an opportunity for our military to show their support to our local business community that provides so much back to the military.”
Farrah Champion, Peterson Spouses Club member, shops at local businesses because many donate to the spouses clubs and other military organizations. “The people in this area have opened their community to the military. A lot of businesses do give military discounts and by shopping locally and eating locally, it’s just a way for the military community to give a little bit back to the community,” she said.
Patronizing local businesses gives military families, with their frequent relocations, a way to connect with the community as well. Champion said she has made friends by shopping locally, who have then introduced her to other local businesses. “Shopping locally is a great way to get to know the area. It’s a great way to meet people, especially if you’re in the military,” she said.
A consultant for an in-home business, Champion also has a soft spot for in-home businesses.
In-home businesses carry a variety of products from jewelry to spa items to cookware to candles, and many military spouses choose these businesses because of their flexibility.
Jennifer Rhykus also became a consultant for an in-home business when she retired from the Air Force. Rhykus said supporting an in-home business is a great way to shop while having fun with your friends. “The parties are so that women can have some ‘me time.’ You get a chance to relax, have a good time, and hang out with your friends,” she said.
Traditional brick-and-mortar stores and in-home businesses cater to different tastes than many big-box stores, Champion said. “You have a different variety of things and sometimes a totally different quality of things.”
A different quality of customer service also keeps Champion and Ryhkus coming back to local businesses. Owners of the local businesses Champion frequents know her by name.
“You have more than just a greeter at the door,” Ryhkus said. “You have someone who wants to help you and try to take care of you.”
Shopping at local, independent businesses keeps the economy alive through sales tax. “The sales tax that is charged is a major piece of the revenue for the city and for the services it provides,” Binn said. “Dollars spent here in our community go back into our community.”
Due to its convenience and bargains, online shopping is one of the biggest competitors for local businesses. “(Shoppers) should not discount our local community. They should not discount the stores that we have and the services and the products that we have here locally,” Binn said.
Though not an avid online shopper, Ryhkus often browses online to locate where the best deal is before going to the store. “If you can’t find things here, you can go online but that doesn’t really help out (the economy) here,” she said.
A mother of three, Champion doesn’t mind spending a little more to shop locally, and rarely shops online. “I love supporting local businesses, whether it’s a business out in town that’s owned locally or an in-home business. The income is very important to a lot of people,” she said.
Being part of the local military community gives local shoppers an edge and both Champion and Rhykus always ask if businesses offer a military discount.
Hugo Escobar, 21st Space Wing accredited financial counselor, said having a military ID card is like putting money directly into your pocket. “People know that military (families) are going to spend money and as an incentive they offer a military discount,” he said.
Not all businesses offer a discount, but Escobar said it is always worth asking. Additionally, shoppers should ask if a local store will price match, he said. “No one wants to reject your business. As consumers, we have the power. It’s worth asking.”