I’m assuming you’re spending a little bit of your time these days on holiday shopping. How much thought do you give to where you’re spending your money? And how it’s used after the retailer gets it? That money, especially at Christmas, helps keep our city alive and ticking.

Almost half of the city’s total budget comes from local sales taxes; it’s the last 1.75-percent you pay on anything that’s taxable. That money is what pays the city employees, paves our streets, and purchases public safety equipment like fire trucks and police cars. When you make those purchases in Conway, you help pay for Conway city services. When you shop elsewhere you’re paying for someone else’s city services. It’s a no brainer. If you buy your tires in Morrillton you’re sending money to the Morrillton Fire Department, Morrillton parks, Morrillton sanitation, etcetera.

Almost 20-percent of the money we’re talking about comes in during holiday shopping. That’s why you see such a push to promote local shopping. For Kim Williams, Director of the Conway Downtown Partnership it’s a full-time job. "For the small businesses downtown, it’s a critical time," said Williams. "But it’s also a great opportunity to introduce new shoppers to Conway and our locally owned retailers."

And if shopping local is good for the city, shopping at a business that is locally owned is great for the city. Here’s why: when you spend one-hundred-dollars at a locally owned business, sixty-eight dollars stays in the community. That’s compared to forty-three dollars spent at a national chain retailer.

Those dollars are recycled over and over in the form of wages and other local expenses. Locally owned businesses are much more likely to use local banks, donate to local non-profits, and employ their neighbors. On top of that, locally owned businesses often offer exceptional and very personal service.

Tricia O’Connor, manager of the Kitchen Store, says hands-on local ownership brings a family-like atmosphere. "Our customers and employees are like family. We try to be price-competitive with big chain stores, to offer a unique mix of products that customers won’t see everywhere, and to provide more services- like complimentary gift wrap and free delivery to local bridal or baby showers."

I can directly attest to that level of personalized service. I recently took all three of my kiddos into the Kitchen Store and they each wanted to pick out a toy or trinket that was under five-dollars. My daughter had the hardest time picking something; and the sweet employee went all over the store hunting for cute girly things that were in our price range. She went to all lengths to help us; and we came home with an adorable doodling book.

Another example of personalized local service; I can buy presents for my husband at Bell & Sward and they automatically know what size he’d wear in whatever I’ve picked out even though I can never remember his measurements. They know simply because he’s been in there before; and they’ve remembered.

The importance of shopping local has even spawned a national movement. American Express’ shop local program started several years ago as a way to bring recognition to small businesses. According to American Express’ website, "Small businesses help make communities thrive." The credit card company’s efforts lead to something called ‘Small Business Saturday,’ which immediately follows Black Friday.

Another great reason to shop local retailers, is they are much more likely to support local non-profits than chain stores are. O’Connor says, "Small stores can make a bigger impact because they form long-term relationships with non-profits in the community. For example, in October we hosted an annual fundraiser for the Perinatal Bereavement Program at Conway Regional. We raised nearly twenty-thousand-dollars to help grieving families. We couldn’t do this without the relationships we have established in our community over several years."

While Black Friday and Small Business Saturday were all last weekend, there’s most likely still plenty of shopping ahead for you. It’s never too late to use your dollars locally, remembering your city and neighbors will be all the better for it.

Melissa Gates is the Communications Specialist for the city of Conway. For more information visit www.cityofconway.org or follow @thecityofconway on Twitter.