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Editorial: Lure of holiday lights important to Valley retailers

Lights illuminating trees in downtown Northampton went on as the days grew shorter. Easthampton’s annual holiday stroll and the festive Merry Maple tree lighting in Amherst on the common took place Friday . The lights on Pulaski Park’s towering tree in Northampton will be flipped Saturday afternoon. In Florence center, Northampton’s other downtown, holiday lights abound as merchants lay out a welcome mat.

These are time-honored and beloved rituals of the season.

But make no mistake about it, the glow is also an invitation. The people who are stewards of our downtowns are saying please shop here. Bring your energy, and yes, your cash, to this sector of the commercial base.

On the heels of Black Friday, when the multitudes flock to malls and chain stores for a bargain-hunting frenzy, last weekend’s so-called Small Business Saturday aimed to get shoppers to patronize small, local, independent businesses.

Small Business Saturday is a three-year-old venture created and marketed by American Express. Sure, it’s a gimmick. But struggling independent businesses that have a difficult time competing with the deep discounts some large-scale retailers are better positioned to offer will take all the help they can get.

Tony Maroulis, executive director of the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce, candidly called Small Business Saturday “the newest holiday made up by credit card companies.”

And yet he also said, “We think it’s great.”

We applaud local businesses for taking initiative to draw people to their downtowns.

To their credit, they are not sitting idly by, bemoaning their fate in a dire economy. They are wooing customers and are reaching out and gussying up in a variety of creative ways.

In downtown Northampton throughout the month of December, college and community a cappella groups are lined up to serenade shoppers.

While this venture is a fundraiser for the Hampshire Interfaith Cot Shelter, promoters also see it as a way to make shopping downtown more appealing and festive.

Amherst is offering free parking downtown on Saturdays in December — and today, shopkeepers are hoping the Greeting Card Day initiative attracts shoppers. The promotion gives holders of a card distributed by the Gazette and the Amherst Bulletin 20 percent discounts at participating stores.

Meanwhile, at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, revelers will gather in Pulaski Park in Northampton as Santa Claus arrives on a fire truck, carolers perform and hot chocolate is served up to all who attend.

We don’t blame anyone for choosing to spend their hard-earned dollars at the place that offers them the best deal. That impulse is understandable, and the need to economize is real.

But we offer this thought: Don’t write off Main Street. If you give it a chance, you may find a deal.

You may bump into a friend. You may hear astounding music. You may feel a sense of community and camaraderie.

And if, in the doing, you make a purchase from a shopkeeper you know by name, you’ll be supporting local business.

That’s an economic stimulus package you can take to the bank.

In case you don't know, not everyone in Northampton - or anywhere - is a Christian. You might want to consider the same respectful informed view of the authors, in which they included ALL celebrating the various holidays, in their own ways. Happy Holidays to you, I think.

In your editorial "The lure of holiday lights" and the guest column "A holiday call........" and "Amherst's Merry Maple doubles down..", the word Christmas was never mentioned. What holiday are you folks celebrating?

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