NELDON: Let’s give thanks to our local businesses

With months of economic challenges due to pandemic-related shutdowns behind us — and likely many more uncertain months ahead — locally owned businesses could use our support now more than ever.

Typically, when I encourage our readers to support local businesses, I am asking you to spend your hard-earned dollars locally. Dine at locally owned restaurants, support local retail, utilize services offered by local mom and pops. Today, I have an opportunity for you to support local businesses without spending a penny.

Leader Publications’ annual Best of the Best contest returns today, with voting live online and ballots in today’s papers. For many years, our readers’ choice contest has recognized businesses in dozens of categories ranging from best hair stylist to best place to enjoy a steak.

As our local economy has prospered in the last couple of years, we have enjoyed seeing more and more friendly competition among competing businesses throughout Michiana. This year, as businesses rally to stay afloat in a time when their customers are afraid to frequent businesses in person, your votes are more important than ever.

Although I am certainly not saying that a first-place win in our Best of the Best contest will pay the bills for these business owners, I know from experience how much a “thank you” from a loyal customer can lift the spirits.

Each vote you cast in our Best of the Best contest is a “thank you” for good food, good products, good atmosphere or good customer service. Your thank-yous serve as testimonials that these businesses are worth supporting, enticing other prospective customers to show their support as well.

Owning and operating a business is a challenge in any economic climate, but the challenges businesses are facing in today’s climate are unprecedented and incredibly difficult to navigate. While these challenges do not discriminate based on size (all businesses are struggling), locally owned businesses have a unique set of barriers. As such, we at Leader Publications have decided to award only locally owned businesses in this year’s contest.

We understand that your favorite place to buy women’s clothing may be on the discount rack at JCPenney (I, too, love a good bargain), but have you ever checked out the selection at Who Knew Consignment or the Marshall Shoppe in Dowagiac?

Sure, Red Robin probably has some killer burgers — they’ve built a national brand off of that premise — but have you ever tried the legendary cheeseburgers at The Tavern in Niles?

Our mom and pop businesses lack the resources available to national franchises. They do not have national-sized marketing budgets, and they lack the word of mouth that is carried from town to town across the country.

In most cases, though, the experience offered by locally owned businesses is more personal, and more tailored to the local clientele.

We encourage you to vote for franchises owned by local residents — if you love Dairy Queen, tell us which franchise location is your go-to. If you love a Wings Etc., which spot calls your name?

To vote, visit leaderpub.com and click “Best of the Best,” or fill out the paper ballot inside your newspaper today and drop it off at our office, 217 N. Fourth St. in Niles. Voting ends at 11:59 p.m. Thursday.

Our businesses need your support now than ever. Won’t you join us in saying thanks?

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