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Shop local first

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This Friday Centertown businesses are planning to stay open late as part of the Christmas kick-off festivities. We've said it before, and we'll say it again: If you haven't already shopped locally, this is a good time to start.

Buying locally is more than a nice slogan, it's about supporting the community and those businesses that serve as its foundation. The lure to shop at the malls and stores in Lynchburg and Roanoke should be tempered with the reality of the unique options provided by the local merchants located in Bedford, and throughout the county.

There is a growing movement to recreate the downtown atmosphere of smaller communities. While shopping centers in larger cities may now be trying to imitate the storefront shopping of communities like Bedford, the good news for us is that we don?t have to recreate that atmosphere, it's already here. Why settle for a copy when you can experience the original. And you can do it in Centertown these December weekends while listening to carolers or taking a carriage ride.

For many, loading up the car and heading for one of the region's malls to shop is a Christmas tradition. The shoppers then head back into the community with trunks and the back seat packed full of gifts, all purchased in another community, all providing tax and sales revenues to another locality. With gas prices as they are, doesn't it make even more sense to see if a local store has what you're looking to purchase? Or maybe you'll find something even better?

Already many of the national merchants are reporting robust holiday sales. The first weekend of the season provided glowing reports for many of those businesses, up some 7 percent from 2006. Let's see to it that local merchants see more sales as well. Local sales will also help grow other businesses along with the tax base.

And Monday, now known now as Cyber Monday, was a stellar day for online business as more shoppers across the country booted up their computers and surfed the Internet, clicking their way to cyber deals, thereby avoiding the crowds all together. Traffic to online sites continues to grow and shopping online was expected to exceed shopping in stores over the Thanksgiving weekend. But by failing to put on their coats and gloves and walk from shop to shop, those shoppers are missing a unique experience, the atmosphere of the season that only a small community can provide. Our local businesses help provide for the one-of-a-kind distinctive character we enjoy.

The truth is, in many communities like Bedford, almost half of the shopping this season by the communities' residents will be conducted outside of the community. But it's important to remember that money spent inside the community, stays in the community. And our local merchants invest in our community. Many non-profit organizations are supported year-round by local businesses. That support should not be forgotten.

One dollar spent in the community can turn itself over three times or more, providing for the livelihood of a community's residents, our neighbors, families and friends. The dollars spent locally help provide for the necessities of a community's vitality, funding the basic services needed to keep a community thriving. We continue to stress: Shopping locally produces additional revenue, providing money for education, tourism and public safety; keeps taxes lower by providing a broader tax base; and leads to a better community, offering more jobs, more choices and better products.

Not every gift on residents' wish lists will be available locally. That's OK, for those needs step outside the community.

But take time to give area businesses a chance. Throughout the county, local merchants provide unique and specialized gift opportunities, beyond what the mall or retailers outside the area can provide. Before jumping in a car and heading for Lynchburg or Roanoke, support the backbone of this area first, the merchants seeking to make our local community better.

This holiday season, take time to visit the numerous stores in Bedford and the surrounding communities in the county.