OPINION: Shop local: Patronizing Valley businesses helps boost economic recovery

In the tropical climate of the Rio Grande Valley, the signs of fall are most evident on the walls and shelves of local businesses. In fact, many retail outlets already are bringing out Christmas decorations and merchandise.

The fourth quarter of the year began Oct. 1, and it’s make-or-break time for many retailers who rely on holiday sales to stay afloat. This is especially true in South Texas, where Winter Texans and cross-border shoppers are such a big part of their revenue stream. As we continue to take tentative steps out of the economic contractions forced upon us by the COVID-19 pandemic, we don’t know if that stream will be healthy, or a mere trickle.

There’s never been a better time — or greater need — for people to patronize local businesses.

We start the quarter filled with uncertainty, not knowing if many of our winter residents will choose to stay north until the pandemic subsides, and how much border crossing restrictions will reduce the flow of Mexican shoppers.

Merchants surely need the revenue. Many were forced to close during the initial months of the pandemic, and those that didn’t lost business as people chose to stay home rather than risk catching the coronavirus simply by going to the store. Like millions of people nationwide, Valley residents started utilizing online sources for nonessential merchandise. We expect that many of them like the convenience of remote shopping and plan to make it a habit.

Internet sales, however, take money out of our local economy. By returning to local stores, Valley shoppers will help keep them in businesses, and enable them to hire and pay local employees — our neighbors and family members. As that money churns through our local economy, it will help fund local services, from filling potholes to providing schoolbooks for our children.

It literally will keep some businesses alive. Many of them have operated at a loss for the past two years, holding out for economic recovery and a return to solvency. Even those that closed during the pandemic still had overhead costs such as mortgage, interest and insurance payments. Local patronage surely will keep some of them from having to seek our support in other ways, such as federal loans and other tax-subsidized assistance.

Online shopping is a tradeoff in convenience and cost, and for many shoppers, the benefits might be shifting back to storefront outlets. Changes in tax codes have imposed charges on many items that people once could buy tax-free online. On-site shoppers have the benefit of testing their merchandise and taking it home immediately; they don’t have to wait for delivery, hope it isn’t stolen from their porch, or risk having to send it back if it is defective or was damaged during shipment.

We encourage people who offer Valley merchants the most valuable holiday gift possible — our patronage. People can also support local businesses by asking our members of Congress to support efforts to lift travel restrictions that don’t significantly affect public health but do hurt our economy.

Better options and convenience are good reasons to shop local this year, and that can help make this holiday season better for many of our neighbors.