20170818-bc-annasmith-2

Anna Smith

Henry A. Barrios / The Californi

What gives a city its personality and character? Where does its soul reside?

There are so many interwoven components involved — the people, geography, architecture, history and culture. Another important ingredient: its businesses.

So many of our shopping needs can be met online and delivered right to our doorstep. With the advent of Amazon and big-box stores that ship to almost anywhere within days (sometimes hours), the retail experience has become divided into online convenience and niche brick-and-mortar stores.

And I am as guilty as the next. With a new baby, we’ve been especially reliant on Amazon Prime. Out of diapers? Order online. Wipes running low? One click, and it’s added to shopping cart. Don’t want to slug ourselves and a sleeping baby to a store and back just for detergent? Prime it! Middle-of-the-night fussy baby? Order the highest rated sleep-aid gadget, and it will arrive tomorrow. Bulky paper goods and repeat purchases like toiletries are all purchased from Amazon. It only makes sense. For necessities and convenience, it has been especially helpful to save a trip with a baby.

But for special gifts, greeting cards, flowers and so many other things, it’s a much more enjoyable experience to shop small. We can chat with the owner, receive personalized gift-giving advice and know we’re helping support local families in a powerful way, with our presence and pocketbook.

The allure of shopping at a locally owned business is on-trend again. And it makes sense. Consumers are looking to support small shops, which define the character of a city and bolster local economies. While doorbuster deals can be had at a chain warehouse or department store, the charm of a curated local shop can’t be beat. Consumers are hungry for in-person experiences.

All across the country, this movement back to the local gave rise to Small Business Saturday, as part of the “Shop Small” movement, which will take place for the eighth time on Nov. 25. The shopping initiative was founded by American Express in 2010 and is held each year on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. The goal is to encourage Americans to support independent businesses across the country, from their neighborhood café to the toy store down the street. Shop Small Saturday is the antidote to the frenzied free-for-all at a big-box or department store on Black Friday or Cyber Monday.

As noted in the 1998 hit "You’ve Got Mail," we may just have to “Picket the big, bad chain-store … that’s out to destroy ... everything [we] hold dear.” (Eerily foreshadowing, the film is premised around a romantic relationship sparked online.)

In the spirit of Kathleen Kelly and her Shop Around the Corner, I’d encourage you to shop small on the 25th, and contribute to the local flavor of this place. Support businesses that support our community. I know I’ll be deliberately pausing the onslaught of brown boxes at our stoop as I shop for holiday gifts at small local businesses.

Perhaps a bit melodramatic, but if we save the shop around the corner, we will help to save this city’s soul.

Locally, the Downtown Business Association is organizing something a little splashy to entice consumers to our city center for Small Business Saturday. There will be free pedicab rides, a champagne brunch at the Padre Hotel, visits with Santa and giveaways. They are kicking off the event at 9 a.m. with a community bazaar outside of Fallgatter Rhodes Insurance at 17th and G streets with fresh new downtown restaurant and shopping guides. Guests are then encouraged to visit participating shops around downtown with rides by Think Green Pedicabs. At 4 p.m., dessert and champagne will be served at the Marriott Hotel as a prize drawing is held. A tree-lighting ceremony will follow at 4:30 p.m. with a pre-game Party in the Plaza outside of Rabobank Arena, hosted by the City of Bakersfield and the Bakersfield Condors. To purchase tickets and for more information, visit www.bakersfielddba.com or call (661) 325-5892.

The Marketplace will host a small event as well. There will be hosts in the Rose Garden Courtyard section of the shopping center to welcome shoppers and pass out exclusive coupon books. Local shops such as Victoria’s, Bella and others will also be hosting their own in-store events with promotions, giveaways and discounts. When customers spend $25 anywhere throughout the center, they can show their receipt for a free photo with Santa.

•••

Tree Lighting: The Town & Country Village shopping center hosts its 23rd annual Christmas Tree Lighting on Friday, Nov. 24. Sit with Santa for a picture and enjoy holiday performers, clowns and treats.

•••

No island: Reader Response to “Art and economic development are not sovereign, separate islands”:

David Gordon, executive director of the Arts Council of Kern (which is about to celebrate 40 years!), wrote in to echo the sentiment that it is crucial to our community's success that the arts are celebrated, experienced, supported and treated as many people's vocation.

The Arts Council of Kern's mission is to provide support, and promote arts access, advocacy and education for all of Kern County. Their biggest charge is to put artists to work and get them a living wage. They do this by acquiring contracts that put teaching artists to work in places like state correctional facilities and Kern County behavioral resource services and by educating emancipated youth and migrants in Arvin.

The Arts Council also revived the Art Walk at First Friday that gives nearly 100 hundred artists opportunity to share, show and sell their work. As David notes, “Where else can they test the market by literally opening up their own store front to thousands of attendees?”

To do all of this, the Arts Council relies on grants, county support and their only mission-driven fundraiser, The Kern County Plein Air Festival. This weeklong spring festival invites 15 of the best plein air painters from around the Western United States to paint our County for a week before the pieces are celebrated at the Gala. This year's event is April 9-14, 2018.

Anna Smith writes a weekly column about downtown Bakersfield. She can be reached at anna@sagebakersfield.com.

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