Darin's fuzzier in 2020

'Point of No Return'

By Darin J. McCann

Executive Editor

So, I’m begging.

Let’s word that differently, if you don’t mind. I’m just not a fan of begging for stuff, so let me try this approach instead: I’m asking you, on bended knee with a tear in the corner of my eye, to toss away all the political rancor, click away from your “team’s” 24-hour news network for a bit and hear me out on a way we can all put on our big-kid pants, act like adults and do something that will benefit our entire community.

Fine, I’m begging. Call it what you want.

Shop local this holiday season. When you are out shopping for those supplies to give your home a joyous holiday vibe in a year crying out for joyous holiday vibes, try the local shop first. When you are ordering food for your family’s holiday meal, or deciding on that charitable contribution before the year ends, think local. When you are buying gifts for those people in your life that you adore so much that you want to buy gifts for them, buy them locally.

Look — I don’t want to sound like the “Get out and vote” people who bash you over the head every 15 minutes to do something that your very freedoms dictate you have the right to do or not do, just so I can feel better about myself. We all hear “shop local” this time of year, espousing the importance of keeping our money local and helping out small-business owners over corporate entities.

We all already know this makes sense, right? In a time when we can agree on, like, six things, isn’t this one? If you shop locally, with independent businesses, then more of that money does stay in the area. It does benefit a family who pours their blood, sweat and tears into every second of operations, as opposed to lining the pockets of a random shareholder who might live on a different continent, unsure of all the individual holdings in his or her portfolio.

Shopping local is smart, right? We know this?

But this year it’s more than just sensible to shop local — one could argue it is critical. In fact, I’m one. I’ll argue it right now. If we don’t support our local businesses, right now, the face of our community could be drastically different going forward, and a town like Bethany Beach might never be the same again.

That sounds alarmist, right? It should. Look around you. We live in alarming times. People are at each other’s throats because a bunch of yahoos with talk shows and YouTube channels tell us to be, while politicians on both sides of the aisle in Washington sit back and revel in the discord because it causes their political bases to become more engaged, thus improving their chances of nursing off the taxpayers for a bit longer.

A virus has swept the world, leaving death and suffering in its wake, and we fight each other. Every. Single. Thing. Is. A. Fight. Anymore.

And that virus? The one we’re always fighting each other over? Well, leaders in some states, including ours, have determined that the best way to keep it at bay is to limit how many people can go to a shop or restaurant or public event in an effort to control it from spreading as much as possible.

Do all of these rules and restrictions make sense to me? Nope. Some seem a little arbitrary, and I can’t quite understand how it’s perfectly fine to do one thing but not another. Also, I think a lot of these decisions are particularly damaging to small businesses. But I do get the interest to stop the spread. I do understand that there are a ton of things to consider when making these decisions, and I’m not in the room when these things are being discussed and considered.

And I also understand that, no matter who agrees or disagrees, these are the decisions in reality, and this is the hand that small-business owners must play. So, let me tell you about how this makes shopping local even more critical this year, and I’ll expand on my earlier statement about Bethany Beach as a prime example.

Many of our local businesses — particularly in the beach towns — make the lion’s share of their money from, say, Easter, through the middle of August, when kids start going back to school and family vacations pretty much wrap up for the season. The Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce and others have done a fantastic job of expanding the so-called “shoulder season” for businesses by organizing weekend events and festivals to keep people coming into town to pump up those businesses a bit longer, but you get my gist — the “earning season” for the beach towns is more limited than in many parts of the country.

Now, that money they make during the busy season has to last throughout the leaner times. Some of these Bethany businesses close up shop during the winter, and some try to make it through — but these are not the months that pay to keep the lights on, right?

Well, they did not have their typical spring, did they? Nor did they have a standard summer or fall. Restrictions placed on them due to the virus caused some of that, and people just not feeling comfortable enough to go out contributed as well. Also, people who might have normally spent money in the shops and restaurants may have been impacted in their own financial situations due to the pandemic, that they didn’t have the same “spending money” lying around.

We’re now entering “the lean season” in a year filled to the brim with “lean seasons.” Without that cushion from the busy time, some of these beloved stores and restaurants might have to make some very hard decisions. No — scratch that. The businesses don’t make the decisions. The flesh-and-blood human beings who own and operate these businesses will have to make these awful decisions. And the flesh-and-blood human beings who work for these people will ultimately be affected by these decisions, as well.

And now that it has become official that the Town of Bethany Beach Holiday Happenings and tree-lighting ceremony have been canceled, the pressure ramps up even more, as yet another opportunity for these businesses to stay afloat goes up in smoke. Again, I’m not questioning or criticizing these decisions. I’m stating facts. This does hurt the downtown businesses.

So, we go back to some hard choices that these business owners might have to make over the coming months. Do they have enough to get through and hope that spring brings relief? Do they have to go apply for bank loans? Tap into their children’s college accounts? Get another mortgage on their homes?

Close their doors for good?

Let’s say that some do have to make the excruciating decision to lock the doors to their businesses and dreams, due to something entirely out of their control. Eventually, we assume, this virus will get under wraps and the economy will start returning to some form of normalcy — a form that is yet to be determined, if we’re being honest with ourselves.

When the restrictions come off and people come back to visit Bethany’s shops and restaurants, what will they find? The quaint privately-owned and operated businesses that give Bethany Beach its identity and uniqueness? Or will it be a landscape of chain restaurants and factory stores that take their place, regulating downtown Bethany Beach to looking like any number of other towns in America that have been swallowed up whole by large corporations?

We talk a lot about how approving developments and the influx of new people moving to the area can change the very fiber of our community. All that is true, obviously. But losing our small businesses, and all the benefits they bring to this community, does more definitive damage, at a much faster pace.

But we can all help. We can make our own decisions, and consciously decide to support our local businesses. We can order in from our area restaurants if we’re not comfortable dining out, or choose to dine there over other alternatives. We can buy gifts in our local shops, as opposed to clicking with our mouse to hope that something gets delivered in time. We can do this. Us. If we actively decide to do it.

The time for action is right now. Shop local. Help out your neighbor. Find something unique that you can’t get in a national restaurant chain or brand store. Preserve the essence of your community by investing directly in your community.

Go find a book for your special somebody that comes from the heart. Grab something with a “Bethany Beach” logo on it for someone who misses being at the beach. Stop and get food from one of the amazing restaurants downtown while you’re out actually putting in effort to find a unique gift for somebody, bettering the very future of your community in the process.

I used Bethany Beach in this as an example of a town I could see undergoing significant change if we don’t all step in, but all of our local businesses could use the support of the community they so willingly service each day. It’s hard to make it in a brick-and-mortar business these days, and exponentially more difficult if circumstances that are out of your control seemingly conspire against you.

Let’s consider one another this holiday season, and to borrow a phrase from Mahatma Ghandi, let’s “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” The ball is in our court.

Please shop local this holiday season. I’m begging you.

Executive Editor

Darin is a native of Washington, D.C, and studied journalism at Temple University. He is a combat-veteran Marine, and has worked as a reporter and editor throughout the country. He is married and has one daughter, who doubles as his harshest critic.