Who among us hasn’t bought a Christmas gift for someone, only to choose the wrong size and in doing so, finding ourselves in trouble for “sending a message.” If it’s too small, then we’re being unrealistic, too large and we’re saying… well I won’t even go there. As more and more of our Christmas gift shopping migrates to Web sites and large, metropolitan department stores, the chances of surprising a loved one with the proper size grow slimmer all the time. There is hope, though.

Each year, around important dates like Christmas, birthdays, Valentine’s Day and the like, I find that I have several phone messages waiting at the house. During other times of the year, several local merchants have taken the time to make a list of specific styles, colors and yes, sizes, that would be just right — and send the intended message — for my wife. Their personal calls are reminders that they have gift ideas. Not surprisingly, I’ve never gotten one of those calls from a Web site or a big city department store, both of which have greater resources than any of our local merchants, offering that kind of help.

That’s just one example of why locally owned retailers are so important to a community. They offer the type of customer service that really helps the shopper.

To describe the auto dealer situation here over the past several years as anything other than tumultuous would be inaccurate. We’ve had dealers close and reopen, dealerships have sold, rumors have run rampant — but that all seems to be settling down with the three auto dealership teams we have in place. Perhaps recognizing that they must regain the public trust, the three largest dealerships have begun advertising as a group, promoting themselves, their inventory and their prices. By working together, they hope to spread the message that auto buyers can get the vehicle they want, at a competitive price, right here in Brownwood.

Their message about selection and price is an important one, because the perception of many people is that the best prices and variety only exist in a larger town. It’s the age-old “grass is always greener” argument. Although it is fun to check out large malls, and their extravagant holiday decorations, it’s important to realize that shopping locally is important as well. Like all local merchants, the auto dealerships are an important piece of the local economy. The tax revenue they generate helps is vital to our city and county, the salaries they pay cycle back through area economy and the charitable organizations they support are able to offer services because of their generosity. Every dollar that consumers spend out of town, go to support those very same efforts somewhere else.

An old rule of thumb that chambers of commerce use when measuring economic impact is that a dollar will turn itself over about seven times within a community. That means that a dollar spent at a local merchant will pass through the hands of seven folks in town. It gets cycled through the local economy as payroll, to pay for goods and services or as a charitable contribution, for example. Each time it changes hands, there is additional benefit created. There is a tangible result from that cycle — and the result is a better community.

Can shoppers always find everything they want in a smaller market like Brown County? It would be misleading to answer “yes.” Are our prices always the lowest, the hours always the most convenient? No, not always. Our local business owners invest a lot of sweat equity — their own time and resources — into their shops, though, and the personal attention they offer goes a long way toward making up and even overcoming those shortfalls.

Personalized service, competitive pricing, comparable inventory, good for the economy — those are just four of the reasons that it makes a lot of sense to shop locally, particularly as we wrap up our Christmas shopping over the next 12 days. And if I don’t answer the phone, it’s because I’m probably shopping downtown. Just leave a message.

Bill Crist is associate publisher of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Wednesday. He may be reached by e-mail at bill.crist@brownwoodbulletin.com.