Sarah Rodriguez, owner of Luzetta's flowers, rings up customers that filled her store during Moonlight Madness. (The Enterprise/Yadira Lopez)

Before you click “order” on your computer this year to buy another holiday gift, stop a moment. That single mouse click will likely be felt throughout the community and not in good ways. Here’s why.

Through the year, you see “thank you” lists from nonprofit groups in Malheur County. This is the list of donors who gave money, products or services to charity. And the lists, whether from the Treasure Valley Community College Foundation or the Vale Alumni Association, are often populated by local businesses.

That those businesses can say “yes” when asked depends, really, on local shoppers.

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There is no arguing the apparent ease of online shopping. You can sit in your slippers, coffee mug at hand, browse, chose and buy. That ease is draining billions from local economies around the country. That’s not a news flash.

What’s perhaps not so apparent is more than the fate of a local business is at your fingertips when you click that order button.

When a local retailer shuts the doors, the ripple effect may seem invisible but it’s real. First, of course, employees no longer are getting a paycheck. Vendors providing that retailer lose a customer. And the community loses one more business that says “yes” when members of FFA or supporters of the Festival of Trees come calling. A dependable source of community donations is gone.

When that happens, others don’t kick up their giving. Instead, our local charities just do with less. So what? Well, that means they can’t help the community as much, whether it’s caring for children or feeding elderly shut-ins. One disappearing donor at a time, our community’s ability to care for its neediest is impaired.

Many of you recognize this to some extent, it seems. In the exclusive Malheur Enterprise Holiday Shopping Survey, 78% of those responding said that they shop in Malheur County to support the local economy. Those people get the value of using their wallets and credit cards in town.

And if you asked local store owners, they’d argue you are missing out when you go online. When you shop locally, you can browse products – pick them up, hold them, fiddle with them. You can’t do that with a digital image. Questions about how something works or what’s the best choice? Most places, you have a worker handy to help you. Try getting questions answered from your online stores. And often, what seems like a great deal online is no better and sometimes worse pricing than you’d find in Ontario or Vale or Nyssa.

Now, this means local retailers have to be smart about getting you in their stores and keeping you content. For retailers, the win is customer service. Are employees greeting people as they come in or are they sitting glumly behind the counter, scrolling their phones? Is help easy to get or do workers have to be chased down to answer questions? Is the store just a pleasant place to be – clean, free of clutter, an inviting environment?

The “shop at home” campaigns can seem perfunctory. They can seem trite – until you consider the cost of not shopping with retailers you know. This holiday season, make a determined effort to spend just a little more around the community than you did last year, resisting the impulse to get it all done online.

Don’t think of this as some sacrifice on your part. Consider it in your self-interest – to be sure that when it’s time for you to ask for donations for a good cause, you aren’t finding an empty storefront instead of a supportive business owner.    – LZ 

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