Home for the holidays

Busting the online-is-cheaper myth

Dave Asher of <a href="http://livelocalrenosparks.com/">LiveLocalRenoSparks.com</a> gives a locally caffeinated toast to area businesses.

Dave Asher of LiveLocalRenoSparks.com gives a locally caffeinated toast to area businesses.

It’s a common assumption that you can find almost anything online for less money than what you’d pay in person at a store—especially a local one. Yet there I was, perusing sheet music in locally owned Maytan Music a few weeks ago and being pleasantly surprised to find the prices for brand new piano books were less than or equal to anything I could find online. Also, unlike any online dealer, I could flip through the whole book—not just be given access to a couple of page views—and even play a few pieces on the store’s piano before deciding to buy the book.

So I decided to take the online-is-cheaper maxim to task. I visited three local, independent shops that sell a number of products that can also be found online. They were all within walking distance on South Virginia Street: Melting Pot World Emporium, Carter Bros. Ace Hardware, and Nevada Fine Arts. I would’ve added the nearby EcoReno to the mix, but it will be closing at the end of the month, a sad reminder why we’re even discussing buying local. Sidenote: I’ve written holiday gift guides geared toward local stores for the past three years, and many of my go-to spots—La Bussola, Kitchen Treasures, and now EcoReno—have had to shut their doors.

Among the three stores, the Melting Pot was generally a bit more expensive than if you bought the same product online. Example: Oscar Wilde action figure for $12.50 compared to $7 online. However, it’s a fun, colorful shop to support and explore. And with the added shipping cost of most online shopping, the price difference is negligible. You may not even know you wanted an Oscar Wilde action doll—or incense or a funny hat or a hula hoop—if you didn’t explore this shop.

Ace’s generally cost more—but often only slightly more—than what’s available online. And once shipping is considered, it’s often equal to or less than what you’d pay over the internet. For example, a Black & Decker Cordless Drill for $39.99 at Ace would cost about the same or less once shipping was factored into the $34.45 cost online.

Nevada Fine Arts was sometimes below online prices even before factoring in shipping and nearly always cheaper or the same once shipping is considered. A “Painting by Numbers” kit for kids was $12.99 at the store, compared to a dollar more on the internet. A 16x20 inch Frederix Artist Canvas—and what artist can’t use more canvases?—cost $10.80 at the store and just a dollar less online, before shipping costs are added.

Bottom line: Online is often cheaper, but not always by much, and sometimes not at all.

Live local, buy local

Let’s say it is cheaper to buy online. Why should we go out of our way to buy local? Dave Asher of LiveLocalRenoSparks.com, which provides free listings to local businesses, has a hierarchy of how to shop: “Always shop local first, chain stores next. The absolute last resort is buying online.” Asher says he’s one of the rare buy-local advocates who encourage shopping at Walmart and other chains because at least they employ local people, collect sales taxes and pay property taxes, all of which go to support things like local schools and libraries.

“If you can’t find it by shopping locally, go to Walmart or Sears before going online,” he recommends.

He breaks it downs with a national statistic from the group Business Alliance Local Living Economies: For every $100 spent locally, $68 of it stays in the local economy, compared to $43 staying here for every $100 spent at chain stores. How much of that $100 spent online stays in the local economy? Zero, says Asher.

Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble have big warehouses in the region that employ hundreds of local residents. Some argue that shopping at those venues is buying local. However, Amazon does not charge sales tax on sales in Nevada, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and Amazon’s own website.

“People feel better buying online from Barnes and Noble and Amazon because they have warehouses here—but so does Walmart,” says Asher. “It’s about where the profits go.”

He adds that corporate stores also hire corporate advertising teams, corporate lawyers and corporate accountants, whereas local mom and pop stores tend to find local ad firms, lawyers, and accountants.

“If we can shift 10 percent of our GDP over from nonlocal to local businesses, we can create $350 million staying in our local economy,” says Asher. “It’s where the money goes after it’s spent.”

10 local gift ideas

Some of the best deals and gifts to buy locally are those you can’t get anywhere else, like services and handmade, only-in-Reno items. If you’re stuck for gift ideas in these final days before Christmas, here, in no particular order, are 10 of them—no shipping or handling, and guaranteed to get here before Santa does.

1) Spa, massage or manicure/pedicure gift certificate.

2) Gift certificate to a favorite local restaurant.

3) Gift certificate to a favorite local coffee shop.

4) Tickets to a local play or concert.

5) Hire a local cleaning service to clean the gift recipient’s house for a day (a personal favorite).

6) Visit the Nevada Store in the Moana West Shopping Center on Lakeside Court for everything from Wolf Pack gear to soaps, teas and ornaments made in Nevada.

7) Local art. Find it at local galleries, boutiques, cafes or directly from your favorite artist.

8) Lavender Ridge, 7450 W. Fourth St., has a wide selection of homemade lavender bath, body and culinary products at their farm/gift shop.

9) Lift tickets to a local ski resort.

10) Membership to a local gym.

For more local gift ideas and a list of locally owned stores and businesses, visit www.livelocalrenosparks.com.