It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.

In the downtown business community, merchants have been gearing up for some time.

In past years, we've urged local residents to support Carroll-area businesses rather than shopping in the malls of Des Moines and Omaha, Neb., or keystroking around the Internet to fill their holiday lists.

We're making that case again.

Carroll Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jim Gossett is making a great pitch for people to shop at home in the Christmas season because the money you spend in Carroll now comes back to you in so many ways.

"Buying locally is a simple concept that can have far-reaching impact," Gossett said.

There are the obvious economic factors, like keeping more disposable income here in town. The multiplier effect holds that every dollar spent here rolls over seven times. (Gossett and I have a spirited ongoing debate about what the multiplier really is, but I was just at a business conference in Des Moines in which a sharp academic type went with my number seven as well.)

But there's more to it than just Economics 101.

Unless you work in the commercial district, you probably have no idea how many charities and school groups and service organizations hit up local businesses for their causes every year.

The Carroll Rotary Club, to which I belong, on Monday discussed creating a list of all the local businesses to approach with raffle ticket sales.

It's the price of doing business. It's nice to participate.

And it makes for a better community, this giving a dollar here and a dollar there.

When kids want new band uniforms at one of our schools, it's not going to be that shells out for the fundraiser.

When a local kid is sick and the medical bills are insurmountable, or tragedy strikes and funerals must be funded for families, it's often the local businesses, not Target or Best Buy or the shamefully overpriced boutique brand-name stores at Jordan Creek Mall, that donate to the cause.

"Support the businesses that are involved in the activities you are involved in," Gossett said.

Now, I'm not saying people should buy absolutely everything from Carroll stores.

And neither are the Chamber people.

Just give Carroll your first look, give our merchants the initial shot at your dollar, and nobody is going to scarlet-letter you with the traitor stamp should you be spotted, bags in hand, at a Des Moines mall. I've had girlfriends, too, and sometimes, to keep the peace, you are forced to go to a mall - even when eight must-watch football games are on television that afternoon.

Keep this in mind, too: It's not like the Chamber is asking people to shop at some run-down Woolworth's with its "local" marketing campaign.

There are a lot of great gifts in interesting stores right here in Carroll.

"We have everything they do in the city, but you don't have to wait in line to get it," C.J. Niles, the former Carroll Chamber director, always told me about this time of the year as we interviewed her for the "shop local" story.

And if they don't have the right gift, local merchants can get it for you.

That considered, there is truth in advertising with the Chamber's slogan, "It's all here."

Here's another angle: Gossett says, he uses the Internet for local purchases.

"I use the Internet to shop, but I don't buy," he said.

What Gossett means by this is that he searches the Web for products he's interested in and then finds local merchants who carry the items - or gets them to order the merchandise for him.

"We find that the local stores are aggressive in ordering what they don't have in stock," he said.

Gossett said consumers can save time and money this way.

If you know what you want on, say, a Monday, merchants can get the products to you in days, and you don't have to leave Carroll, Gossett said.

"We need to seek out those local people and see what they can do for us," Gossett said.

Now, more than ever, is a time to make a pro-Carroll statement with your consumer dollars.

This year, we have another idea to promote our local business community.

It's clear the population of Carroll swells every Thanksgiving as people of all ages return home to be with their families.

Just check out the churches and bars and the Recreation Center and restaurants.

Many of these same people then come back for Christmas.

Here's a suggestion for our weary travelers: Take care of all your holiday shopping in the Carroll area after Thanksgiving and leave your gifts here for Christmas.

That way, your Santa duties are handled early, and you don't have to travel around with extra bags on an airplane or in a jammed car trunk when you return for Christmas.

Believe me, whenever I flew back on the airlines from Chicago or Washington, D.C., there was nothing more annoying than those people cramming 17 bags of gifts into the seat next to you.

Moreover, by shopping in Carroll you will be supporting local businesspeople, people you know - not those rude, dismissive temporary clerks, dripping wet with judgment with urban irony, in the malls of the big cities.