How we shop for the holidays, and when and where, is changing as fast as the number of flat-screen TV options available at local department stores.

According to the Washington, D.C.-based National Retail Federation, about 71 million Americans headed out and went shopping on Black Friday, while 76 million said they waited to see what kinds of deals retailers had on Cyber Monday.

For the entire holiday shopping season, consumers are expected to spend $43.4 billion online, up 17 percent from last year.

So the question becomes: where will you do your gift purchasing this season? We’re hoping you’ll consider patronizing businesses in North Clackamas County. Here’s why:

First, there’s the human aspect. Walking in the door of a local business is a completely different experience than clicking away on your mouse. You can see, feel, smell (and maybe even taste!) what you’re about to buy, and personally wish store owners and employees “happy holidays” to boot. It makes for a more engaged and friendly encounter.

Secondly, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you’re contributing to the economic health of your community by buying locally.

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, 60 cents of every dollar spent with an independent retailer stays in the community where the store is located. By comparison, chain stores put back 20 cents of every dollar while big box retailers return just 6 cents of what you spend back into the community.

Thirdly, don’t assume you’ll get a bargain by driving to the mall. Last month the Wall Street Journal reported a study showing that a third of the items advertised for Black Friday sales had been available for less earlier this year. You just might save money if you look in your own community. Check out what advertisers have to offer, right here in our pages. Call them if you don’t find what you’re after, and see if they can get it for you. Our experience is that local vendors go the extra mile, if they’re able, to please a customer who stays closer to home.

And, there’s always the beauty of benevolence to consider. If you and your family decide to do your giving to others instead of yourselves, there are dozens of worthwhile nonprofits that are doing their best to help folks in need as the Great Recession slowly recedes. See our special-section advertising inserts for ideas.

Like it or not, most of us are going to add some digits to the U.S. retail engine’s bottom line in the coming weeks. But if we’re smart, and clever and caring, we can do our shopping in ways that support our communities and amplify the spirit of giving this season.

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