In late November, Highlanders lined the main streets of Minden and Haliburton to wave at Santa, the grinch, dancing elves and kids on floats grinning from ear to ear. 

Around half the floats were sponsored by local businesses, often with the owners or their families riding on board. 

Some of the County’s most popular vendors didn’t show up. 

There was no Amazon float. Costco’s board of directors weren’t waving to the crowd; BestBuy didn’t make an appearance either. 

Jeff Bezos has almost certainly never heard of the Highland Storm, let alone donated money to fund a kid’s hockey team or held a toy drive for a Highlands public school. 

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Short on cash? Not likely. 

Amazon’s profits rose to more than $100 billion a quarter in the first half of 2021, shipping with razor-sharp precision at a speed even Saint Nick would struggle to match. 

If anything, COVID-19 has expanded the largest vendors’ reach. 

It’s the local businesses who’ve felt the brunt of COVID-19: lumber yards, grocery store owners, restaurants and car dealerships who are actively working in the County. 

And many are struggling with long-term impacts of COVID-19: we reported on supply chain woes in late summer that still threaten nearly every niche, and the Highlands inhospitable housing market makes it increasingly tough to find retail or service workers.

As a reporter, talking to people brave enough to start their own business is a highlight of the job. However, if I’m honest, I’ve often clicked “purchase” on gifts online I could have easily gotten from an independent shop within 20 kilometers. 

It’s the local storefronts that bustle with holiday cheer and garland this time of year; those are the places that draw visitors and make towns into communities. Those are the places that support County kids with toy drives, gather coats for local families or take the time to get to know your name. 

While large corporations strategized Boxing Day marketing, a group of artisans, crafters and bakers gathered at Abbey Gardens over the weekend to sell their wares: mittens, baking, soaps and paintings that are injected with the personality and care of the maker. 

Haliburton’s Chamber of Commerce joined regional chambers in a new “Keepin’ it Local” marketing initiative, all about increasing local shops’ visibility.

In Haliburton, a Ladies Shopping night Dec. 9 is a night of sales, hot chocolate and late hours for local shops. 

I recognize there is lots you just can’t find without going online. But since I’m the kind of person who shops for Christmas a little last minute, I have a choice to make this Holiday season: will I support the businesses working to build the kind of community I want to live in? Or will I chip in for Bezos’ next rocket?

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