Although Black Friday and those lowest-priced deals of the year have come and gone, many people who avoided the chaos have yet to pile those coveted Christmas presents under the tree and are wondering where to go. Instead of cutting out coupons for those 20-percent-off sales at the numerous chain stores throughout the county, think local.

And this year, in particular, small, independently-owned businesses, in an effort to attract customers, are more competitive than ever by slashing their prices and offering unique gifts.

Shopping local, however, goes beyond keeping beloved mom-and-pop stores up and running. Cities throughout the country have found that spending money at independent retailers does much more than meets the eye in those relative economies. For instance, New Orleans adopted the Stay Local! initiative, which promotes economic vitality by supporting and shopping at locally owned and operated businesses. Research conducted by the Institute of Local Self Reliance in D.C., which the Stay Local! initiative abides by, has proven the benefits of doing so are numerous.

Result of shopping local include: 1.) protecting local character and prosperity so that every city in Ventura County is distinctively different and remains so because of an eclectic array of stores, 2.) providing community well-being through local businesses that build character in our neighborhoods and contribute more to local charities than national stores, 3.) keeping decision making local through ownership and stakeholders, and 4.) keeping dollars in the local economy, where money spent at independently operated businesses has three times the impact on the community that dollars spent at national retailers do — monies spent locally create jobs, fund more city services through sales tax revenue and are invested in improving the surrounding areas.

Shopping local also often equates to better paying jobs than chains and is the base for the spirit of entrepreneurship.

The public benefits and costs compared to big box stores and strip malls are tangible — locally owned businesses require little, if any, infrastructure expansion and make better use of public services. Locally owned stores also lead to environmental sustainability by creating walkable shopping districts, which cut down on urban sprawl. Product diversity and competition are also the result of healthy locally owned businesses.

The Shop Local movement has caused quite a stir around the country — from the American Booksellers Association asking consumers to seek out locally owned bookstores to the advocacy group, Reclaim Democracy, which believes that corporate chains are ruining the sense of community in our hometowns by pushing out independent stores. It is clear that small businesses are waging a war against corporate America and the slow demise of our eclectic communities. While everyone prefers the low prices that typically only a large retailer can afford, the costs to our communities are too much.

Now is the time to rethink our spending habits, and buy quality, not just quantity — something that most local businesses owners can guarantee. The time and effort each store owner puts into providing quality products is a reflection of the owner’s character — big box stores simply cannot compete. So as you look to fill up the empty floor beneath your tree this year, head to shopping districts such as Downtown Ventura, Ojai or Santa Paula, or stroll around Old Town Camarillo and find those gifts your family and friends will cherish while keeping the spirit of shopping local alive.