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Amazon or Petaluma? Your choice

Petaluma, CA, USA. Monday, August 08, 2016._ Aerial view of downtown Petaluma. (CRISSY PASCUAL/ARGUS-COURIER STAFF)

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As the holiday shopping season gets into full swing, the question of whether to support the gargantuan online retailer Amazon or Petaluma’s locally owned and operated businesses should be an easy one to answer. For our part, we strongly encourage Petaluma gift shoppers to take full advantage of the many benefits afforded by shopping locally, and to avoid using Amazon.

While Amazon purports to offer consumers convenience and savings, a closer looks reveals that this global titan is sucking the economic lifeblood from communities like Petaluma.

Before you sit down to your computer and call up the Amazon website, consider the following conclusions from a report entitled “How Amazon’s Tightening Grip on the Economy is stifling Competition, Eroding Jobs and Threatening Communities,” produced by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

As Amazon displaces sales at brick-and-mortar stores, including many here in Petaluma, it is causing more job losses than gains. An analysis by ISLF of the corporation’s impact on employment found that at the end of 2015, Amazon had 146,000 employees in the U.S., but had displaced enough sales at stores to force the elimination of 295,000 retail jobs.

That works out to a net loss of 149,000 jobs. These job losses will only climb as Amazon takes over more of the retail sector and ramps up its reliance on robots and drones for packing and delivering orders.

Despite the arduous work, the people who work in Amazon warehouses earn less than their counterparts in the rest of the industry. Amazon’s wages average 15 percent lower than the prevailing wage for comparable work in 11 metropolitan areas.

Amazon staffs its warehouses with large numbers of temporary employees. Although the company often calls these positions “seasonal,” it relies on this arrangement year-round.

The work at Amazon is often dehumanizing, with very high production quotas. According to the International Business Times, “Amazon’s productivity numbers are apparently purposely designed to be unattainable for most workers so that employees feel that they are falling down on the job and push harder to hit the impracticable levels.” In 2016, Amazon was fined by federal regulators for not recording employee injuries, including some that were severe.

If none of this gives you pause about using Amazon for your Christmas shopping, then consider the many positive benefits of shopping locally.

Here in Petaluma, sales tax revenue is the single largest source of funding for city services. Every dollar spent locally generates sales taxes which directly support our police and fire departments, parks, street maintenance and emergency disaster response such as that seen throughout Sonoma County during the historic and devastating wildfires that burned thousands of homes here last month.

Studies show that each dollar you spend at an independent business returns three times more money to the local economy than one spent at a chain store, and almost 50 times more than buying from an online mega-retailer like Amazon.

Moreover, your investment returns to strengthen the community in the form of local jobs and generous donations by Petaluma business owners who support a myriad of local non-profit organizations. When you spend your money at local businesses, you are helping keep Petaluma’s non-profit organizations strong.

By choosing local and independent businesses for your services, shopping, dining and other needs, you not only enjoy a more distinctive and personal experience, but the casual encounters you enjoy when shopping locally build relationships and community cohesiveness.

According to the American Independent Business Alliance, community-serving businesses typically consume less land, carry more locally-made products and create less traffic and air pollution. More efficient land use and more central locations mean local businesses put less demand on our roads, sewers, and public safety services. They also generate more tax revenue per sales dollar. The bottom line: a greater percentage of local independent businesses keeps your taxes lower.

Not only do local businesses employ more people directly per dollar of revenue, several studies have shown that when you buy from an independent, locally-owned business, rather than a nationally-owned businesses, significantly more of your money is used to make purchases from other local businesses and service providers, continuing to strengthen the economic base of the community.

Petaluma has a myriad of different shops offering a wide variety of products that are suitable for gift giving including apparel, musical instruments, books, home and garden items and much more. Gift certificates for dinner at a local restaurant, or spa treatment, or theater event are always appreciated. And don’t forget your local hardware store, grocer or bakery for that treasured tool set, special meal or holiday pie.

One thing you won’t find at Amazon or the big out-of-town malls is locally grown or manufactured products. Whether it’s delicious cheeses or wines made by a Petaluma dairy or winery, artwork created by a local artist or a craft item made by the artisan that lives down the street, buying locally helps keep Petaluma healthy.

The distinct benefits of patronizing local merchants will be evident next weekend as the Petaluma Downtown Association kicks off its annual holiday events with Santa’s arrival by riverboat. Here in Petaluma, families still have the chance to shop, drink hot cider, listen to live music, get their pictures taken with Santa Claus, enjoy a horse and wagon ride and marvel at the colors in the ever popular Lighted Boat Parade.

Especially this year, when many thousands of our Sonoma County neighbors have lost their homes in devastating fires, remember to put community first when doing your holiday shopping.