In the Bulletin’s Pet Idol calendar contest just completed, readers “voted” for their favorite pets with their dollars. But that’s really nothing unusual. Every time a consumer spends money on a product or service, he is making a “vote” of some variety. He is voting in favor of that retailer or service provider. He is validating the reason that person or company is in business, and is casting a vote that will help keep those people and companies in business.

As Americans awake this morning to what is generally considered to be the busiest shopping day of the year — some national chains even opened at 4 a.m. — the importance of where we shop is a point worth remembering. In most situations, and for most products and services, consumers have a choice, and the decisions they make are critical.

“Shop at home” campaigns are most visible during the month before Christmas, but shoppers have their own reasons for trading where they will, and have repeatedly shown a determination to exercise their freedom. There’s something of a dichotomy at work even with that familiar slogan. For example, merchants in a metropolitan city may proclaim it to their own community, but they are hoping Brownwood residents — among others within comfortable driving distances — don’t follow their own advice.

Religious observances are at the core of the holidays, of course. But our society has also built a commercial significance to the season upon which the annual budgets of retailers in particular rely. The sales generated during December will typically make or break many businesses. And while the commercialization of Christmas is rightfully decried by many, it is also true that the livelihoods of millions of American families depend on the success of the firms for which they work. The sales do more than just line the pockets of a wealthy investor or distant entrepreneur. They keep the guy next door employed so he and his wife can feed and cloth their children.

Although the phrase dates back at least to a song from the 1920s, former University of Texas football coach Darrell Royall popularized the saying, “Dance with who brung you.” In a sports context, that means you don’t change the players or the plays that brought you success on the day of the big game. From a shopper’s viewpoint, the same premise applies. Throughout the year, certain businesses may have supported your charitable causes with donations or prizes to giveaway. They have sponsored teams on which your children played. They have earned the first shot at your business this holiday season.

Americans should indeed be thankful of the vast array of choices they have when it comes to selection, retailers and merchandise. Competition is the American way, and that has led to improved quality, enhanced service and a multitude of options that sometimes can seem mind-boggling. But where we make our purchases is no less important than what we choose. Your dance partner awaits your selection.

Brownwood Bulletin