Okay, I’ll admit that I was being perverse and baiting the poor teenagers, but I couldn’t help it. I was waiting to speak to a local retailer when this neatly dressed quartet of high school seniors entered the business. Since it was a school day, I asked them what they were doing out running around and they politely told me that they were selling yearbook ads. Yearbooks are expensive to produce and in a few years may be sent the way of the dinosaur by the digital revolution, but for the time being, our local schools must defray some of the cost by going to our nearby businesses and selling back-of-the-book ads that few people notice. I couldn’t help myself, so I started trolling the water and the fishing was good that day. I told one young lady that her outfit was extremely stylish. She blushed and thanked me, then I threw her the bait, “Where’d you get it?” She gave me the name of a fashion boutique in the White Oaks Mall. Another young man had some classy-looking sneakers so I asked him where he shopped for shoes. He said, “Amazon.” My fishing trip was beginning to pay real results. One more try: I asked them where kids today shopped for prom. The answers scanned the Central Illinois landscape from Macomb to Quincy to Decatur. “There’s this really great place in St. Louis,” said one girl. I had just reached my legal limit of catch for the day and came home with a bucketful of disgust.
These kids were out asking our local merchants to support their cause yet none of them seemed to have any intention of shopping locally. I’m sure that their list of businesses to visit included bookstores, restaurants, car dealers, insurance agents, banks and businesses of all sorts, yet I doubted that any of these kids and perhaps few of their parents actually patronize the very folks whom they’re soliciting.
Yearbook ad teams are far from the only groups who might do well to rethink their buying patterns. A local car dealer told me that at certain times of the year he could actually make use of an extra employee whose only job would be to talk to the various community organizations asking his company’s support. “I do the best I can to make everyone happy,” he told me, “but, sometimes … man, it gets sort of ridiculous.”
A well-placed ad in one of the local newspapers or on a local radio station will no doubt return a much bigger bang for an advertiser’s buck than a one-line thank you at the bottom of a fundraiser’s program, yet our local business men and women continue to shell out the cash for practically any local and worthwhile organization that comes knocking. Most don’t complain, most see it as a necessary part of living in our community, but isn’t it about time that we fulfill our end of the bargain and first think locally when buying?
I know a guy named Jess who is without doubt the most called-upon master of ceremonies in our community, all gratis of course. The fact that he’s such an entertaining auctioneer only increases his value behind the microphone of so many area benefits. I asked him if he knew how many times he’d given his time and efforts to raise funds for a local cause and he told me that he wished he’d kept track, but the number was huge. I threw out my fishing line one more time and asked, “And do people usually return the favor by patronizing your own business?” He smiled politely and didn’t answer. I would hope that some do, but his lack of answer told me that many don’t.
Of course these big-hearted local folks buy program ads, sponsor concerts, donate loads of items for charity auctions with little or no thought of personal gain, but don’t we owe them more than a one-line mention of thanks in a program that no one reads? The manager of a local radio station told me that he looked out his office door one day and saw an actual line of people wanting either donations or free air time. “Back in the old days,” he said, “I’d give them something, then ask then what radio station they listened to. I quit doing that. Their answers embarrassed me and them both.”
‘Tis the season to decide whether to sit on our butt and send our money to Amazon or eBay or any of the big-box online retailers, or get a little exercise by casting our own line out into this retail community who do so much to support us. If we can’t at least return the favor to the local businesses that have done so much for us, then things are, well … a little fishy.