SPENDING CHRISTMAS

6 December 2014 No Comments by The Northern Standard

The crucial Christmas trading season for the county’s commercial and retail sectors that is now upon us has been ushered in on a tide of cautious optimism that seems to gauge the temperature of the wider economic climes.

But, if the country is creeping stealthily away from austerity, its shadow is still a long one, with the music made by the clash of spare spending coinage in the pockets of the people hardly yet rising to orchestral heights.

If shoppers contemplating their Christmas wants and needs have a little more fiscal leverage this year than in recent times, they will still be minded to invest prudently rather than lavishly.

They will be perusing the advertising columns of this newspaper, listening to the local airwaves and studying the promotional literature of retail outlets in the coming weeks in order to mine the maximum elasticity from their hard-earned cash.

It is evident from all these sources that a strong effort is being made by the merchants of commerce in Co Monaghan’s towns and villages to persuade the customer that the best value resides in their locality.

Retail tourism has become a fact of life in recent times, with the allure exercised by towns outside the county and across the Border exerting a pull on trade that sharpens the competitive environment that local retailers strive to exist in. And the rise of internet shopping has added to the forces against which the traders of our towns and villages have to contend.

The fluctuating nature of the currency differential seems in recent times to have favoured business on this side of the jurisdictional divide, with the advantages of any price differences in the North so minimised by the associated costs of travel and subsistence that the trek there is no longer an exodus, and is undertaken more as an outing than an opportunity for a money-saving spree.

Local traders can live with that, just as they are learning to live with the irresistible reality presented by the growing predilection among the technology-besotted to browse and shop in the universal emporium of virtual retail.

The addition of internet shopping services to the repertoire of customer convenience offered by many Co Monaghan businesses shows a progressive understanding of its utility.

It is also a sign of confidence that our indigenous business virtues are readily transferable to this relatively new medium, and that Monaghan can compete with the best that the virtual world has to offer the modern shopper.

But the challenges that economic downturn has presented to Co Monaghan retail businesses remain legion, and are ongoing. Many will face into the weeks ahead in a make-or-break situation, with a target figure of income in mind that will determine whether they can meet onerous overheads and preserve employment levels when 2015 dawns.

The importance of a healthy retail sector to our local economy is considerable. Shops and services remain our most significant source of local employment and form a circulatory system whose functioning is crucial to community prosperity and wellbeing.

The “see it local, buy it local” message which this newspaper has propounded in recent times, and the kindred encouragements of the Monaghan Has It organisation and other units of commercial organisation in our county for people to support local traders when making Christmas shopping choices, are motivated by more than parochial concerns.

They are intended to speak to the community instinct that we all innately possess and foster an appreciation of the link between individual purchasing decisions and the development or decline of our local commercial environments.

There is no proven formula for economic recovery, with the jury still out on whether the current national political approach of commencing a tentative loosing of the corset of rectitude which has constrained us in recent years will bring our sick country back to full health.

But in the end government and legislators can only do so much. Sustainable economic recovery has to commence at street level – there is no locality in Co Monaghan that has not been pockmarked by the ague of austerity, as the endless blind windows of closed shops and service outlets attest. A sustainable recovery must start by changing that dispiriting landscape by ensuring that the commercial outlets that continue to operate remain viable and prosper to a stage when they can propagate the renewal of those premises that currently lie barren.

We would therefore encourage Co Monaghan people planning their Christmas expenditure to gave careful consideration to the value and choice offered by the businesses in their midst, and to exercise where they can a positive discrimination in favour of the local trader.

Shopping local is one way we can all make a positive contribution to putting our communities, and ultimately our country, back on its feet.

HIDDEN POVERTY

Christmas has a disconcerting habit of laying bare the usually subterranean divides in our society.

The Archbishop of Dublin was this week minded to contrast the flurry of Christmas spending in the capital with the plight of its many homeless.

Co Monaghan, as was stated at the resumed Budget deliberations of our Co Council this week, does not have a homelessness problem, and there were no rough sleepers detected on our streets in a recent survey.

This is a mercy, and a credit, to us – but it does not mean that our county is not riven by the stealthy disease of hidden poverty.

If the overwhelming majority of Monaghan people always have a roof over their heads, there are many among us whose economic circumstances have so declined in recent years that they daily struggle to provide the necessities associated with maintaining their home and clothing and feeding themselves and their families – people who might respond to our ‘shop local’ exhortation above with the bitter response of, ‘What with?’

The extent of this mostly hidden but uncomfortably real truth is only known perhaps by those agencies and societies who work to alleviate poverty’s secret tyranny in our midst.

This is the time of year when organisations such as the St Vincent de Paul Society experience the most pressing demands on their resources, and look to the wider public for support.

All of us who will have enough and perhaps a little more this Christmas should consider helping such groups, in coin certainly but also if we can with our time.

Social exclusion and despair make unhappy Christmas gifts but they are what this season brings to those who don’t have enough – those who are able to should do what they can to mitigate poverty’s reach in our county in the weeks ahead.

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