Stangl

Depending on when you read this column, you have about two weeks to go until Christmas.

Yes, it’s true. Check the calendar, I’ll wait.

The best thing to do right now is to avoid panic. There is a lot of time to get your shopping done. You know what you are buying, right?

If you don’t know what the perfect gift is for everyone, I would suggest thinking back to conversations or interactions you have had with your friends and loved ones. The best ideas come from the most basic information.

As a grandparent, I find wish lists helpful, but I often think it’s perfectly fine to go off of script and find something special. Like many things in life in the early 21st century, gift giving and suggestions are far too specialized and structured.

Globalization, international trade and the internet have opened a whole new world for shoppers. If you see a Japanese cartoon you like, it’s a safe bet there is merchandise you can buy and bring to your home a half a world away.

This is a wonderous, daunting and divisive landscape for consumers and retailers. In many ways, it is great. You can literally get you heart’s desire, providing you can find it and get it safely delivered to your front door.

But there is a darker side to these developments as well. Local brick and mortar retailers, the heart and soul of our downtowns and communities, face huge challenges in this new reality. Few have the space, time and resources to compete in this space. After being the best at their niche business for decades, retailers cannot expand into numerous other businesses and be the heart’s desire of enough people to remain profitable and more importantly, viable.

Some have chosen to find a lane and do the best they can for goods and more importantly – service. Attentive service will be the salvation of many small businesses.

Consider the venerable retail giant of the late 19th and 20th century – Sears and Roebuck. Their catalog, which first advertised watches, eventually changed the face of retail sales in the nation. Consumers could buy anything from watches to clothing to even kit homes and have them delivered to their doors.

The disruption caused by this innovation was bemoaned by many main street store owners, who made arguments against the retailers that are similar to those being made today against Amazon. Many on main street adapted and went on being the beating heart of their community.

Sears as we all know is on the ropes, seeking bankruptcy protection in recent years.

I let my parents know what I wanted in the late 1960s by telling retailers downtown in my small hometown what I wanted. The folks at the hardware store and the dime store were very helpful. I also dogeared pages in the JC Penney catalog. We were JC Penney people, not Sears or Montgomery Ward people in my family’s household.

In my lifetime, I can recall very few gifts that changed my life. I appreciated them all, but when I am pressed to name the best gift, I say the lime green stingray bicycle I received as a boy. But when I think about it, what comes back is the time spent with my family and friends.

Bottom line: don’t obsess. Get the gift, but be there for the gathering. That’s what matters.

As always, I welcome your comments. You can reach me by email at tstangl@theameryfreepress.com, telephone 715-268-8101 or write me at P.O. Box 424, Amery, WI, 54001.

Thanks for reading I’ll keep in touch. Feel free to do the same.