Make an investment in our community

What’s your favorite part of the holiday season? You might be thinking about family and friends, the food, the traditions or the decorations that make holidays a special occasion in your home. Our loved ones are central to holiday celebrations, which is why so many of us enjoy finding the perfect gift that they’ll enjoy and remember us by throughout the year.

For me, there is no greater joy than watching a child’s eyes light up when they rip open the wrapping paper to find an exciting, new toy. We spend untold hours hunting high and low for the perfect tangible way to show someone just how much we care about them, their interests or our shared passions. While nothing can surpass the feeling of being there when they open your expertly selected gift, there’s always that initial shiver of excitement when you turn the corner in a store and your eyes land on the gift sitting right there on the shelf in front of you.

Fast-forward from the moment of discovery to the transaction. Think about when you reach across the counter to pluck your purchase from the cashier’s helpful hands. Where are you shopping? Who is the cashier at this store?

Our scenario’s cashier could be the owner of the store, right here in downtown State College. In fact, they’ve probably helped you with your gift selection and can’t wait to hear how well it was received! Beyond their brick and mortar storefronts, local business owners are people we see every day — friends, family and neighbors. They employ people we know and give to local causes that we all support. In other words, they’re part of the fabric of our community.

A community is the sum of all its members, each with a unique perspective, role to play and talent to lend to the greater good. As living entities, no two communities can be the same. What makes State College so special, such a unique community?

From a physical perspective, each downtown business reflects the personality of its owner. Without these business owners, the character of our community would inevitably change.

So, how do we ensure a vibrant downtown State College community?

Melody Warnick, author of “This Is Where You Belong,” has a few ways to approach this question.

First, you could think in terms of physical attributes. Consider the unique storefronts that you love, that you feel would change the character of a community if they were to close. Then, be sure to frequent those businesses.

A second tactic involves budgeting: Redirect a portion of your discretionary dollars to local businesses. Warnick writes that this investment would boomerang back into our community in the form of even better schools, roads and other tax-funded projects. So, whether your investment is $50 per month or 10 percent of your budget — just find the right fit for you.

In the third tactic, Warnick explains in her book that you should think of an item, such as a birthday present, a cup of coffee, a pair of shoes, a bicycle, etc. Whatever your item is, commit to purchasing it locally — at your favorite shop with the cashier who knows your name. This final tactic is my favorite. I’ve used it and I can attest to how good it feels to do business this way, the community way.

These are just a few ideas to create good habits, which foster great communities. It’s not rocket science. It’s not even new. It’s a simple idea to simply retrain ourselves.

Ready to test-drive your new, good habit? I’ll be taking my habit out for a spin on Saturday, Small Business Saturday to be exact. My list is ready and I’m excited to explore our delightful downtown stores to find gifts for all my loved ones!

This season, let’s give the best gift of all — an investment in our community. Gifts purchased locally are a win-win. Your loved one enjoys a hand-selected gift, local shop owners enjoy your business, and you are the all-star who made this play possible!

On behalf of Downtown State College Improvement District’s staff, board members and our esteemed local business owners, we can’t wait to help you with your list this holiday season. Whether you need a gift, the final touch for your holiday dinner, a relaxing evening with someone else to do the cooking, or a room for extra guests — we have something for everyone and are ready to help make your family’s holiday season a spectacular success!

See you downtown!

Irene Miller is executive director of Downtown State College Improvement District.