This holiday season, steer your car — or, better yet, your feet — toward your downtown shopping district to get those gifts.


    This holiday season, steer your car — or, better yet, your feet — toward your downtown shopping district to get those gifts. Not only will you find more unique items than at the mall, you’ll be helping your community and neighbors thrive, saving on gas and protecting the environment, Main Street business advocates say.

Support the community
    Local business owners are a vital part of a community. They buy supplies locally, hire local services and employees, and donate a larger percentage of profits to local events and smaller organizations than box stores, said Lauren Adkins, director of field services at the National Trust Main Street Center. Owners sit on parent-teacher organizations, school boards and civic groups. A bonus: A vital downtown increases a home’s assessed value and resale price.
Save on gas
    Your downtown shopping district is generally more centrally located and requires less gas to get to than driving to a mall, which typically is located on the outskirts of town, said Scott Testa, a business administration professor at Cabrini College in Pennsylvania who writes about retail. Plus, downtown stores and parking are situated so you need to park one time only. At malls or giant shopping centers, people tend to drive from store to store in busy parking lots, Adkins said.
Get greener
    Many communities have improved accessibility to their downtown business districts, said Becky McCray, publisher of the Web site Small Biz Survival (www.smallbizsurvival.com). In addition to more sidewalks, towns have added simple things like benches, shelters and bike racks to make walking, riding the bus and bike riding more feasible. Downtowns also have added green space, more shade trees and solar-powered trashcans and recycle bins to improve the environment.

10 holiday shopping tips
    1. Make a list List all the people you will buy for and what you plan to get them. Start carrying the list around with you as soon as possible. It saves a lot of stress as the holidays sneak up on you.
    2. Not into the holiday season? As you’re shopping, imagine how the recipient will feel when given the gift. Borrow some of that future happiness, and shopping will seem almost enjoyable.
    3. Shop with cash An average person often will spend more money when swiping a credit card for payment instead of handing over cold cash.
    4. Don’t procrastinate Buy gifts little by little, beginning in November, to avoid last-minute fiascos.
    5. Shop when
others don’t Most stores aren’t busy in the early morning or late-night hours, resulting in short lines and wait times. Better yet, find a store that is open 24 hours.
    6. Set a budget Buy only affordable gifts so you won’t be feeling undue stress in January, when those credit card bills start arriving in the mail.
    7. Look for sales Scour the ads, especially those on Black Friday, and keep an eye out for in-house sales. Almost everything will eventually go on sale. Be sure you don’t miss them.
    8. Go generic Buy generic gifts that are appropriate for both genders. This guarantees you’ll be prepared when someone gives you an unexpected gift.
    9. Save receipts No matter how careful you are, there is always the inevitable duplicate gift, wrong size or item that just doesn’t work.
    10. Shop online Bypass the long lines, busy parking lots and heavy shopping bags. Check out stores’ Web sites. Many
will even offer free shipping.
    Sources: Becky McCray of smallbizsurvival.com; www.holidays.net; www.christmas-celebrations.com.