Try Tahoe first: The importance of shopping locally |

Try Tahoe first: The importance of shopping locally

Duane Wallace

Every year the South Lake Tahoe Chamber of Commerce appeals to our community to shop locally. This bold suggestion yields a response unequaled by any other topic: Why?

I’ll try to answer that in the space allotted.

I must admit I’ve shopped off the hill before. However, it was in a moment of weakness and accompanied by the appropriate measure of guilt. There are valid reasons for slipping out of town for a day of shopping. It’s a fun adventure to go to the big city on a merchandise raid. There are some things that are hard to find here. Prices can be lower at big warehouse outfits. Just one of those stores has more commercial square footage than just about all our retail put together.

Internet shopping, though hardly a shopping adventure, has taken a huge share of the market. So, we do understand. In fact our factory stores and the new stores in the redevelopment area serve that purpose for our tourists and even for people in Carson and Reno.

I thought it was only a Tahoe problem until I started receiving other chamber newsletters from all over the country and found that cities like Modesto had articles urging their home townies to shop locally. They have great malls of their own. Why do they have a problem? It became obvious that the shopping adventure experience is heightened exponentially by the number of miles from home traveled. That’s just physics.

Before I’m sent away for good by the Chamber Board on a trip I won’t enjoy as a result of the foregoing, let me explain why we all should try Tahoe first.

There is more to offer here than first meets the eye. Each year I spend the first two weeks of December looking locally for the items I want. I’ve had enough success to say that it does work. Shopping here early keeps me from the temptation of joining the shopping frenzy that goes on in the malls causing one to buy things that under less frenetic circumstances, they’d be able to resist.

Upon reflection of last year’s purchases I don’t think I should have bought Mr. Microphone for my hyper nephew. That toy was not available locally, it turns out for good reason. I personally think that it is the subliminal mall music messages that spur us on to purchase strange things. Mall music has been known to cause white mice to exceed their credit limit in laboratory experiments.

Tahoe’s merchants support us year round. They’re the Little League and soccer coaches donating endless streams of raffle prizes. They freeze their toes off on the sidelines with us and chase down our hat when it blows off. They’re our neighbors and friends.

The sales tax from local shopping helps balance the city’s budget, especially since the voters approved Measure Q. Shopping out of town supports the other town’s street lights, sidewalks, ball fields, police and fire services but it hurts our own. Every dollar spent locally turns over seven more times. The dollar you spend at a local store may end up in your pocket as payroll when the owner or employee of that store spends that dollar where you work. Doing business with a local store owner who could possibly in turn be your customer is a smart way to network and to practice one-on-one marketing.

When it comes to returns and minor merchandise repair problems, it’s much easier dealing with convenient local store owners than taking half a day driving to Reno or Sacramento only to be turned away by someone who doesn’t have the desire, experience or authority to solve your problem. I hope the local merchants who read this understand that service and a positive attitude can be their greatest competitive edge. If not, then no one, including the chamber can help them retain their customers.

However, as I mentioned, the big mall towns also have their problems. So if you see me in an out-of-town store this Christmas, swaying trance-like to the mall music, you can be sure that I will have started early, shopping here first, and asking the merchant if they can order the product for me if it’s not in stock.

This year, let’s try Tahoe first.

– Duane Wallace, executive director of the South Lake Tahoe Chamber of Commerce, can be e-mailed at

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