With the official start of the holiday shopping season upon us, we would like to urge residents to shop local.

When you spend money at a local store in, say, downtown La Grande or Joseph, you are doing more than simply purchasing a gift. When someone shops at a locally owned small business, those dollars stay in the community. That’s because local merchants often purchase items from other locally owned stores. Spending money at a small business in our downtowns helps the overall business health of the community.

Another element that makes shopping local appealing is that small businesses offer unique gifts. But more than that, small business is a distinctive piece of our small-town character. Small businesses across Union and Wallowa counties exude a sense of place, of the Grande Ronde and Wallowa valleys and of Eastern Oregon. Another key to the benefits of shopping locally is that small businesses generally are the biggest employers at home.

Small merchants also typically invest in the community. That means your dollars don’t fly out of the valley and end up at a corporate office far away. No, your dollars kick back over in the community and are reinvested in many ways. That reinvestment is often unnoticed, but it is important for a host of reasons, not the least of which is it helps the community in the long run.

And shopping at a locally owned business can be an intimate, positive experience. A patron often participates in a one-on-one interaction with the person who owns the business. The customer service is specialized and specific, and that counts for something in our often-fast world.

We are not immune nor dismissive of the attractions of big-box stores such as Walmart. The Walmarts of the world provide a large array of choices. The convenience of one-stop shopping offered by big-box stores has its benefits, and most of us this year will journey through the doors of Walmart to do some Christmas shopping.

We’re not advocating abandoning shopping at a big-box store but only suggesting that when you are out looking for those gifts, don’t forget about the unique offerings of your local merchants.

The business strength of a small town isn’t exclusive to just one type of merchant. We need Walmart and we need small businesses. For those businesses to survive — and if they prosper, we all prosper — they need patrons.

Tomorrow is “Small Business Saturday” across the country. In La Grande, local businesses are offering a raffle for gift baskets. We encourage you to shop local this year. You won’t regret it. And you may even win a gift basket.