Tuesday morning, the Tahlequah Daily Press kicked off its annual Shop Tahlequah campaign on the air with Lakes Country 102.1-FM. It's one of the most important promotions all year – not just from the newspaper's standpoint, but from the community's – because it stresses choosing local businesses for holiday shopping before resorting on online sources or traveling to another city.

A community that loses its newspaper has a good chance of descending into a quiet chaos masked by rosy outward appearances. The lack of traditional "Fourth Estate" media outlets means elected officials, business leaders, religious organizations, law enforcement, and institutions have no one to call them into account. The less scrupulous run roughshod over everyone else in their zeal to serve themselves, rather than the public. Corruption becomes rampant, and eventually accepted. Plus there's no reliable source of information – unless one counts social media. And since social media is not held in check by any legal standards, counting on those platforms for accurate information is like expecting a housecat to give itself a flea bath and fetch its owner's slippers.

But a media outlet – a "watchdog" – is only one element. Without other local businesses to drive the economic engine, a town is doomed to die on the vine. With no tax base, there can be no parks and recreation, street improvements, seasonal programs, community forums, or arts and entertainment. This, in turn, will eventually mean no good restaurants, attractive boutiques, plumbers, tax preparers, dance clubs, gas pumps, lawn care services, music and dance studios, or home improvement outlets. Without a base to sustain them, businesses dry up and blow away. The young people leave, and there is nothing that would invite newcomers to set up shop.

It's true that sometimes, local products and services cost a bit more, and there may not always be the variety some folks demand. But local entrepreneurs will go out of their way to find what their customers want, and there is nothing like the personal touch they offer. That in itself – and the knowledge that customers are doing their part to sustain their community – is worth well more than a couple of pennies saved by ordering from Amazon.

This year, more businesses than ever are participating in Shop Tahlequah. Those include NeoHealth, Hearth & Pool, BancFirst, Meigs Jewelry, 490 Creations, Primetime Buds, The UPS Store, Rose Furniture, Workman's, The Skin Boutique, Town Creek Mercantile, Tahlequah Lumber, At The Y Liquor, Felts Shoes, Threadz Consignment, Vivid Salon & Boutique, Too Fond of Books, Oasis Health Foods, Phone Zone, Tahlequah Drug Co., Kroner & Baer, Bryant's Donuts, Rum Runners Discount Liquor, The Branch, K9 Acres, BCG Dispensary, Tahlequah Family Vision Clinic, Super Spray Carwash II, Boulevard LLC, and Minerva Canna. That's an extensive list with something for everyone.

Here's how it works: One ticket is issued for every $10 spent up to $100, then one ticket per $100 thereafter – only at participating merchants. Customers should keep those tickets in a safe place until Friday, Dec. 17, for live drawings cash and prizes, announced from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. There are grand prize drawings, too, for $3,000, $1,000 and $500, plus a $500 Meigs shopping spree, and five $100 Main Street Bucks, which can be used at any downtown establishment. It's a fun way to meld community and holiday spirit into one package!

When it comes to ensuring a thriving community, which comes first, the chicken or the egg? The answer is, it doesn't matter. We're all in this together, and we all have parts to play to keep building Tahlequah, and Cherokee County as a whole. Let's all Shop Tahlequah!

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