Otter and Oak's Christmas in July sale is happening at the McCreery Conference and Event Center! Join us July 23 through July 26 for great deals on clothing, shoes, and accessories. See you at the McCreery.

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I never understood how hard it is for a small business to flourish in today’s world, until I started working for one. Locally owned shops are forced into competition with local chain and big box stores and the entire internet. By virtue of their size, the big guys get all of the perks. There are the tax breaks, the ability to buy merchandise in such volume that they get a lower price on items, and the ability to tap into their corporation’s large advertising budget. This means the bigger stores may sometimes be able to offer lower prices. However, small businesses have much more to offer overall.

Small Businesses have the luxury of human contact. They know what their customers want, because they actually KNOW their customers. When you walk in their door, they may know you by name, by your order, or maybe just by your smile. But because of that recognition, small business owners will go that extra mile to make sure you leave their business a satisfied customer. Want something they don’t have? They will often find it for you. Want a color that isn’t in stock? They can get that, too.

Local businesses are also invested in the community. These are the places that will buy an ad in the school yearbook, or support a little league team. They want the community to grow and thrive, because that means their customer base will thrive, too. It’s a symbiotic relationship that benefits everyone.

Finally, small businesses keep prices reasonable. A big store with no competition can charge the customer as much as they want, and depending on that person’s needs, they may be forced to pay it. When you have several small businesses providing the same products or services, everyone has to keep their customer service high quality and their prices affordable, or people can (and will!) go somewhere else.

So the truth is, supporting small businesses does a lot more for your community than you ever realized. It keeps local people employed. It keeps services conveniently nearby. And it acts as a system of checks and balances to keep inflated prices at bay. In short, if you want to improve the big picture, sometimes you just need to think small! ~Jackie Farley

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Many years ago, when I was straight out of college and working more than 40 hours a week in retail, I developed the dreaded heel spur. The medical profession calls it plantar fasciitis, but I called it torture! Desperate, I went to a doctor, convinced I would have to have cortisone injections in my feet.

My doctor looked at my pretty, blue sequined flip flops and told me that a lot of my problem was my shoes. They were cute, they showed off my pedicure, but they were offering me no arch support. To add injury to insult, with every step I took, my flip flops were smacking against my heel. It was adding to the inflammation.

The doctor suggested different exercises for my feet, wearing athletic shoes for work and alternating them every few days… and then he recommended Birkenstocks.

The first day I wore my first pair of Birks, I couldn’t understand what all of the fuss was about. They were ok, but the foot bed of the shoes felt odd. Then I did some research, and discovered that the bed of the shoe takes a day or two to conform to the contours of your foot. So I wore them around the house for a few hours. By day three, I was a lifetime convert!

Birkenstocks not only have a foot bed that supports your arch, they are also designed in such a way that the soles of the shoe don’t slap against the bottom of your foot. They are the most comfortable shoes ever! I have about 8 (ok, more like 14) pairs of them now. I usually try to treat myself to a new style every summer. I even have Birkenstock clogs for cold weather.

Birkenstocks now come in a wide variety of styles, colors, and price ranges. And while some of them can be a bit pricey, they all seem to last a really long time! I still have my first pair, which are now more than 15 years old.

For the record, I followed my doctor’s suggestions. I did the foot exercises and ditched the flip flops, and I haven’t had any pain from my heel spur in years! So if you have foot problems, or even if you just want to prevent them, I highly recommend trying a pair of Birkenstocks. I’m currently shopping for my next pair. ~ Jackie Farley

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