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Gifting the Community: Shop Local Oxford

Shopping local for holiday gifts is even more critical this year as small businesses suffer in the wake of the COVID-19. Officials say a strong holiday shopping season is also needed to boost local sales tax revenues, which have been lagging behind historical numbers in recent year, and could eventually force cuts to services or other tax hikes.

“If ever there was a year for us to stress the importance of shopping local it would be 2020,” said Pam Swain, senior vice president of the Oxford-Lafayette County Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber’s annual Shop Oxford effort will officially kick off next week with Black Friday and Small Business Saturday festivities in conjunction with The Oxford Square Alliance and Visit Oxford.

This year’s event has been carefully designed to adhere to COVID-19 restrictions, said Swain noting its still going to be a “very fun” and “really big,” holiday event. Friday the Alliance’s Holiday Open House will feature Santa at the Square 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. and the Christmas Tree lighting outside Oxford City Hall at 6 p.m., in addition to a Square Dollars Raffle and the Square Alliance Sleight being available for photos. An Elf Scavenger Hunt will also take place. A variety of other events sponsored by merchants themselves are slated. 

Chamber Ambassadors will also be walking around during the festivities handing out schedules of all the other upcoming holiday events. Swain noted, “The month of December is going to be really big for Oxford. We want to make sure people know what we have going on.”  She suggested following “Holidays in Oxford” on Facebook to stay up to date on events and happenings. 

Visit Oxford has done a great job on planning these events while following COVID protocols.  We will miss some of the fanfare that we are used to, but we think we can make a successful season, and do it safely,” said Neilson’s manager Amanda Lewis Hyneman. “We want families to come to the Square and get to experience shopping, dining, and the canopy of lights, all while following safety guidelines.  Visit Oxford has some great things planned for December – I hear there is going to be ice skating and other fun events planned! 

The Chamber will also publish its guide of local gift items available for under $50 in an upcoming issue of The Oxford Eagle, as well as pushing out its social media promotion and PDF booklet as it has in past years, said Swain. She noted the Chamber has been doing its Shop Oxford initiative over the holidays for two decades but it’s become a year-round effort in the age of online shopping.  

Now with the COVID 19 pandemic causing many retail businesses to reduce instore capacity or close their doors for extended periods, it’s more important than ever for residents to support their local businesses during the holidays. Many local merchants have upped their social media and online presence in the wake of COVID, helping them to attract customers from beyond Oxford while making it even easier for locals to shop local at the touch of a button. 

“With the limitations people have right now with travel, we hope that will keep them at home (for shopping.) We are reminding them that shopping on the internet, although sometimes more convenient it will be much more beneficial to their local community if it can be done at home,” said Swain. 

“I think our shoppers will find they can find what they want locally, if they would make the effort and time to look locally,” said Swain. In addition, retailers have been more responsive than ever to providing a range of options to make shopping safe and convenient. 

“When it comes time to do holiday shopping our local businesses are being so accommodating to the restrictions and the limitations shoppers have personally right now,” said Swain. “All the shoppers need to do is reach out to those retailers and have a conversation or an email them.” She noted many are offering special shopping hours to at-risk customers, online shopping, curbside pickup, and even gift-wrapping services. 

Residents also need to be mindful that spending their dollars in Oxford could help more than just the local businesses, it could help prevent a cut in city services or a hike in their property taxes. 

Over the last two years, local sales tax revenues have taken a hit. Mississippi’s state sales tax is 7 percent but 18.5 percent of those taxes collected locally are returned to the community, this is called a diversion. According to the numbers ending in August, Oxford is down more than $460,000 in revenue returned to the city compared to the same time period in 2019. In addition, 2019 diversions were down significantly compared to 2018. 

However, Jon Maynard President and CEO of the Chamber and Oxford-Lafayette Development Foundation said the most recent numbers do show diversions ahead of 2019 numbers for the month but the lack of tailgating due to the shortened University of Mississippi football schedule may create a total shortfall over 2019 numbers. 

“These are actual dollars that the city relies on for budget calculations and expenditures,” said Maynard. He noted if the overall trend from 2019 continues through 2020 and into 2021 officials may have to look at other revenue streams to make up the shortfall. That could mean a hike in property taxes in coming years. 

“The city has to have the funds to make improvements to our city, and those funds have to come from somewhere,” added Swain. 

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