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“Patronizing local retailers is important for the support of other causes. . , such as education. I don’t see the on-line only retailers supporting state and local government.” — Shawn Lyons, S.D. Retailers Association

Humorist Dave Berry said the holiday season is a deeply religious time that each of us observes, in his own way, by going to a mall of our choice.

But what if your town doesn’t have a mall? Easy, you say. Just drive to Watertown, Mitchell, Sioux Falls, or whatever trade center is nearest to you.

One day when we still lived in Mitchell, I was in Walgreen’s and noticed a couple had filled their shopping cart with gallons of milk. Curious, I asked them if they were opening a new milk diet store and if so, I’d like to invest in it. They took my question in good humor, but said no, they were stocking up because it was less costly than at the store in Parkston, and had picked up some extra gallons for family and friends.

Now, Parkston at that time (I assume it still does) had a nice local grocery story, but the owner can’t buy in the quantity that larger stores can, so his products cost more.

I said as much to the couple, but they insisted the store owner overcharged. They had no interest “in making him rich.”

Few of us will be shopping for milk for Christmas presents, but the story illustrates an age-old problem for traditional small town store owners. They want your business, but know that for the most part, they will have to set a higher price because they pay more at the wholesale level.

As Christmas shopping moves into full swing, it’s worth nothing that retailers depend on holiday shopping for 50 to 80 percent of their annual sales.

Small town merchants always have battled large towns but in the last decade, they’ve also had to compete with the Internet, and it is not a level playing field. When you buy a toy at a local store, you pay state and perhaps a local sales tax. When you buy over the Internet, chances are there is no sales tax, though there are exceptions. This could be easily corrected if Congress would pass the Main Street/eFairness legislation, which would require that state sales taxes be applied to Internet businesses. Another benefit would be $60 million added to state coffers, according to the South Dakota Retailers Association.

My guess is we could put that tidy sum to good use in South Dakota.

Dec. 2, 2015