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'Stop feeding the mouse'

Stop feeding the mouse. Shop locally and build your own community instead of somebody else’s.

That pretty much sums up the case made by members of the Ashland Chamber of Commerce Retail Task Force in support of doing business with local merchants instead of shopping online. Money spent locally recirculates in the community, and local taxes support local institutions, they argue.

“All our local businesses — employers and employees — give back to the community,” said Nancy Bestor, a member of the task force. She and husband Bob are owners of Travel Essentials.

Customer service is another reason cited for shopping locally, where customers can touch, try on, or ask questions about a product, face-to-face. The service is friendly, more personal, she said.

“When I go into a local store, I’m often greeted by name. And, as business owners, we want to educate our customers about our products and how to use them,” she said.

Anne Robison is another member of the task force. She and husband Jason own The Crown Jewel, with stores in Ashland and Jacksonville.

“Shopping locally keeps more money in the community,” Robison said. “And we’re lucky enough that much of our jewelry is produced locally — in Oregon and on the West Coast.”

The mission of the task force is also about educating retailers by providing marketing tips and organizing workshops on topics ranging from store window design to how to compete against Amazon.

Other projects in which the task force has been involved include downtown trash cans, reducing the use of plastic bags, planning promotions, and helping retailers reap the rewards of working together.

The holiday period is one of the busiest times of year for chamber promotions.

On Thanksgiving weekend, the parade, Festival of Light, and Small Business Saturday was termed a big success.

“There was a lot of foot traffic downtown,” said Bestor. “The Festival of Light brings a lot of people to Ashland.” They come for the excitement of the parade, seeing Santa, and the lighting ceremony. And that translates into more shoppers, she said.

Both women said business was good.

“We did about the same as we did last year,” Robison said.

A new promotion this year is “Walking in a Window Wonderland,” a window decorating contest for retailers, now through Dec. 24. People can vote for their favorite decorated windows by ballot or online. The chamber will provide ballot sheets and a map of participating merchants. A prize basket of gifts and certificates will be awarded to one of the voters.

Another new event is “Shop in your PJs Night” on Friday, Dec. 14, from 4 to 7 p.m. It was the brainchild of Robison, who stole the idea from her husband.

“The chamber made a (promotional) video,” said Robison. “On it, my husband Jason made a comment about people who like to shop online in their PJs. He said, ‘If people want to, they can come shop with us in their PJs.’”

Participating businesses will stay open a little later that night. Many will offer refreshments such as hot chocolate, coffee and cookies.

A returning feature of the holiday shopping period benefits local organizations. On three specific Wednesdays, participating businesses donate a percentage of proceeds to three local nonprofits. Beneficiaries in 2018 are Asante Ashland Community Hospital (Nov. 28), Ashland Emergency Food Bank (Dec. 5), and Ashland Schools Foundation (Dec. 12).

A popular holiday feature in Ashland is music provided by strolling carolers, hired by the chamber from groups like the Southern Oregon Repertory Singers and the Siskiyou Singers. You’ll find them visiting local stores Fridays and Saturdays until Christmas.

In addition to Robison and Bestor, other members of the Retail Task Force are Kelly Jean Cooney, the Paddington family of stores; Dona Zimmerman, The Websters; Will Johnson, Ashland Fly Shop; and LouAnn David, Manzanita on the Plaza.

Ashland retailers employ more than 1,400 people and pay 106 percent of the statewide average in wages, said Dana Preston of the Ashland Chamber.

Go to ashlandchamber.com for more information about holiday events and promotions.

You can reach Jim Flint, a retired newspaper editor and publisher living in Ashland, at jimflint.ashland@yahoo.com.

Holiday shopping in Ashland began in earnest Thanksgiving weekend. Foot traffic continues to be good, says the Ashland Chamber's Retail Task Force. Above, Heather Hodgen at Paddington Station shows an advent calendar gift idea to Spencer Hogan. Photo by Jim Flint
Web-ster's customer Cary Voorhees, who lives in the Applegate Valley, checks the mirror to see how a wool poncho looks on her, assisted by clerk Corinna Morrison. The store's owner, Dona Zimmerman, is a member of the Ashland Chamber's Retail Task Force and helped plan holiday activities for the business district. Photo by Jim Flint.