Tinsel Town

The holiday gift-giving season is upon us- make a star of your local makers

It’s become something of a sport to call out how much earlier each year stores begin to put up tinsel and displays announcing the holiday gift-buying season. I started seeing Facebook posts as early as mid-October from unsettled friends who went to buy Halloween candy and instead were haunted by Christmas carols emanating from store-aisle speakers. 

Part of the problem, according to Peter Cappelli, a business expert at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, is that as income inequality continues to worsen, fewer and fewer people have money to buy the things they need, much less the extra electronics, new clothing and high-end personal-care items that are the hallmark of the giving season. 

“Corporations are awash in money right now,” Cappelli says. “The problem is they don’t have enough demand from consumers to increase their production and hire more people.” He explains that the poor spend every dollar they have, but the rich don’t; they invest, save and pass on some as inheritance. As fewer and fewer people hold on to more and more of the wealth, it depresses the economy as a whole.  

Perhaps, then, the early holiday displays are a sign of desperation. The retail industry’s woes are compounded by the fact that online retailers such as Amazon have disrupted the brick-and-mortar business model, including in the publishing industry. That’s why, for the past several years, I’ve made it a point to buy most of my family’s Christmas gifts from local, independent bookshops. 

I’m as guilty as anyone of falling prey to the ease of one-click shopping when I’m in a time crunch, but for those of us lucky enough to have extra money to buy holiday gifts, it’s increasingly important to slow down, plan early and resist both the glow of a computer screen and the convenience of a big-box store. 

The benefits of keeping our dollars in the local economy are many, and in Philadelphia, a vibrant city awash with makers and artisans, it’s also easy. It’s possible to find amazing, locally crafted clothing, durable goods and world-class food and spirits on every corner. If you’re a community-minded person in general, you already know how satisfying it is to shake hands with your farmer, to know your barista by name and to get a warm hello when you walk into your favorite shop—it’s a feeling you can’t put a price tag on, but you’re also contributing to their bottom line.

And, whether it’s because you’re living a minimalist life or you just believe that the best gift of all is time together—Philadelphia has you covered. From the promise of group bike rides with friends to treating your family to dinner at a favorite restaurant, the options are endless, and the memories are forever. 

Finally, if you’re part of a family that has forgone gift-giving altogether, this holiday season you could consider donating more than you usually do to charity: So many of our fellow Americans lost everything during the hurricane season, and they need for us to remember them, because the 24-hour news cycle won’t. Electricity, food and water are at the top of their wish lists right now, so if you have the means, dig deep.

No matter the time of year, giving feels good, and kindness matters—so does supporting our local economy. Now go make this season count.

Heather Shayne Blakeslee

Editor-in-Chief

heather@gridphilly.com