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Katie Pinke shopped at a local business, The Western Shop, in Wishek, N.D. to find a birthday gift for her nephew. (Katie Pinke/ Agweek)

Skip online retailers to support local, rural business

You may have read recently about a St. Louis County, Minn., commissioner questioning county employees about $147,000 in purchases made through Amazon by county employees, for county use. The commissioner's delivery was unrefined, but in the midst of his brash emailing was a clear message to which I subscribe: let's spend our public, taxpayer-funded dollars locally with those who pay taxes, in the businesses that support our local economies, where our people live and work.

I say let's support the businesses that pay benefits to employees who utilize our local health clinics and hospitals.

The businesses that stock shelves with supplies and groceries for us to buy.

The businesses that go to wholesale markets to find new goods to sell you in their small business.

The businesses that need to sell ads to other local businesses. (Hint: that includes where you're reading this column today.)

Those are the same businesses that donate to your kid's school fundraiser, donate to the next big community need, to the county fair, to sports boosters, to the school music trip and the list goes on.

Support the businesses around you, first. The businesses in your town, neighboring town, county, state and you can indeed cross state lines to support an independent business or buy from them online which more small businesses are offering.

Then choose Amazon when you need to.

Amazon is a brilliant business that offers ultra-convenient shopping. But in rural America, Amazon has the potential to kill brick-and-mortar independent businesses. That doesn't mean that I think we all should do away with Amazon; instead, we should make it our first priority to shop local, independent businesses first.

I shop local, independent stores first for a majority of my groceries, household items, and family needs. I shop big box stores a few times a year and try hard to not make it a routine. I shop online for things I don't have time to search out and find locally or in large towns I would drive 100-plus miles to reach.

For example, I mostly purchase business clothes online, as it's difficult to find tall-size women's clothes closer to home. My daughter asked for a Golden State Warriors-themed basketball party, and I ordered the party supplies from an app on my phone for the same reason. But when I was shopping for my nephew's birthday, I bought his gifts at our local western store.

But the other side of this is that small, local businesses and chambers of commerce and job development agencies cannot just sit around and complain about the increase of Amazon shopping. They need to make sure they are innovating and evolving to provide personal service that can help them not only survive but thrive.

My husband is the second-generation family owner of a small-town retail lumberyard and home building business that has had to find new ways of doing business to stay strong. To compete with larger companies in bigger cities, the lumberyard now offers free project supply delivery across a large geographical area.

Taking steps both to support local and area businesses and to keep independent businesses viable are important ways to keep our communities alive.

Think about what would happen if we all give up on our local and area businesses. What will be left for our future? Empty storefronts? No tax revenue to fund our infrastructure needs? No kids in our schools? No jobs for our people?

Communities will die if we don't give a nod and purposefully choose to support local, independent businesses first.

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