By CHARLES OWENS
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Well another holiday shopping season is well underway. Area stores are once again packed to capacity with holiday shoppers. And the joyful sounds of Christmas music can be heard in almost any store or retail shopping outlet one visits.
There are also more people working this time of the year than normal thanks to seasonal hiring. The mall and area department stores have hired additional workers to handle all of the holiday shoppers. This, of course, is good news for the local economy, and the seasonal hiring will be reflected in the latest unemployment numbers when they are released next month by Workforce West Virginia.
However, not everyone who is hired on as seasonal help stays on the job come January. In fact, many of the seasonal workers are just that — temporary holiday workers. Come mid January many of these employees will once again be unemployed. So the drop in the regional unemployment rate will be short-lived.
We still need jobs in our region. We need manufacturing jobs. We need high-tech jobs. We need more retail jobs, and more retail shopping options. Everyone wants a Target. But will we ever get a Target? It’s hard to say at this point.
I was at Target just last week in Christiansburg, Va., and found quite a few good deals. It’s a different shopping environment, and something that would be welcomed in our region. Of course the main reason to go to the greater Blacksburg/Christiansburg area is for either a football game, or Target, Barnes and Noble and Best Buy, as well as many of the smaller book stores that can be found in the vicinity of Virginia Tech and downtown Blacksburg. Given the number of colleges in our region — Bluefield College, Bluefield State College, Concord University, National College and New River Community and Technical College — the lack of a Barnes and Noble or Books A Million is simply baffling.
Depending upon who you believe, and which rumor you choose to accept as fact or fiction, Target may or may not already have an option on land in Mercer County. If the rumor is true, it would sure be nice. However, rumors are just that — unsubstantiated reports that may or may not be accurate. And if there is any truth to the Target or Home Depot rumor, local development authority officials in Mercer County aren’t willing to confirm or deny the reports.
The new Ollie’s planned for Bluefield, Va., is a welcomed addition, and a good first start in terms of providing new retail shopping options for folks in the region. Of course a Target, Home Depot, Best Buy or Barnes and Noble would be great, and would create additional jobs for the area.
Driving to Christiansburg or Beckley isn’t as easy as it sounds. Christiansburg is a good little drive — especially if you live on the Bluefield end of the county. And Beckley is a frustrating drive simply because we have to pay tolls in order to drive on the West Virginia Turnpike. So shopping locally is always the best first option.
Local retailers depend upon area residents to support them. So we should always shop locally first — especially during the all-important Christmas shopping season. Yes, I was guilty of traveling to Christiansburg last week, but it wasn’t for Christmas shopping. Most of the gifts I will buy this year will be purchased in the greater Mercer-Tazewell-McDowell county area.
I’m not much for purchasing gifts online. I like to see and hold the actual package in my hands before spending my hard-earned cash on it. So I will support as many local stores as possible. It’s the right thing to do. And I would hope most holiday shoppers would do the same.
Please support our local stores, including those that are big and small. Sometimes the best deals can be found at those smaller stores nestled across the region. If you can’t find what you are looking for at one store, try another. Looking in Christiansburg, Beckley or Roanoke for that perfect gift should only be considered after all local options are exhausted. Because if we don’t support what we have, we certainly can’t expect to get anything new, or to even retain those stores that are already here. Look at everything we’ve already lost over the past couple of years. We must support what we have. Even if it means dealing with the large crowds, frantic shoppers and traffic back-ups that are so common during the otherwise joyous holiday season.
It’s a part of the big holiday rush. Enjoy it while the weather is still nice. Because you never know when Old Man Winter will make an unwelcomed return to the region. We’ve already had a rare hybrid superstorm, so who knows what else could be lurking just around the corner. As we’ve seen in recent years, an early onset of winter can negatively impact holiday shopping. With hope that won’t be the case this year.
Charles Owens is the Daily Telegraph’s assistant managing editor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @BDTOwens.