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All the season’s best to the retailers

St. Marys Journal Argus editorial

In early November, a trio of downtown St. Marys businesses stayed open on a weeknight, welcoming sizeable gatherings for holiday-themed specials. Last week, a few more businesses hosted similar evening events. With the annual Santa Claus Parade and switching on of the town’s festive lighting displays happening this past Friday, the merchants of St. Marys now look forward to officially getting their Christmas shopping seasons underway on Sunday, Nov. 25 with their annual downtown open house.

All this effort is undertaken with the full understanding that they’re operating at a disadvantage compared to retailers of similar products in larger centres like London, Stratford or Kitchener. The reasons for this disadvantage are numerous and have been explored repeatedly in these pages and in various other venues. Suffice to say that because St. Marys is unable to provide the full shopping experience that many Canadians have come to expect – a complete range of available products within a confined area; beat-the-competitors-at-all-costs prices; secondary services to keep shoppers satiated, comforted and entertained – then St. Marys can not expect a significant percentage of those shoppers to frequent its stores.

The retailers in London, Stratford and Kitchener, however, have their own varied challenges. In some cases, they might face higher rents, or workforces that demand a higher level of remuneration than exists here. Those that specialize in moving a high quantity of low-cost items across their check-out counters probably could never dream about earning the types of margins some St. Marys retailers achieve – either thanks to dedicated out-of-towners looking for a unique shopping experience, or from conscientious shop-local townsfolk who don’t mind paying a little more to support their neighbours.

Perhaps the most enticing dream, however, for all of them – retailers in St. Marys; retailers in towns and cities across the country that lie within a half-day’s drive of the United States – is for Canada to create its own version of “Black Friday.” That’s the day after American Thanksgiving (this year, it’s Nov. 23) that serves as our southern neighbour’s unofficial Christmas shopping season launch.

As with all things consumeristic, the Americans do it up big. Really, really big. Very early in the morning this Fri-day (or, according to some reports citing the ever-heightening desire of retailers to capitalize on Black Friday, as early as 8 p.m. Thursday evening), US shopping centres will throw open their doors to throngs of bargain-hunters. As American political and economic leaders continue their public relations exercise of attempting to evade what has been labeled the “fiscal cliff” of rising federal debt, the American public – dragging along thousands of border-hopping Canadians (and, yes, St. Marysites) for the ride – will take cover inside their malls, allowing themselves to yet again be fooled by the illusion that having (but, thanks to their credit card habits, not necessarily owning) more stuff will somehow drag their economy out of recession.

Will it have an effect? Well, considering the fiscal cliff is supposedly upon the US despite year after year of increased Black Friday spending, probably not. After all, even in the US, retailers are not immune to challenges similar to those faced by our own downtown retailers, or London’s retailers. In the US case, it might be the squeeze put on them by cost-cutting suppliers.

So take heart St. Marys retailers. You’re not alone. And, for what it’s worth, all the best this Christmas season.

(S.S.)

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