03/28/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Who Are the People in Your Neighborhood?

I didn't use a coupon to my neighborhood pet store this past weekend. It was a really good coupon in this economy: 20% off any purchase. I usually spend about $60 every other week there stocking up on food for my dogs, turtle, and fish, and believe me, I can really use the $12.

Yet I didn't use the coupon. The store is literally run by a Mom and Pop I have come to know as I regularly visited their small store in a modest shopping center. Even as two heavy-hitting mega-pet chains have moved into the area within a few miles of "my" pet store, I have remained a steadfastly loyal customer. The shopkeepers are struggling like everyone else, watching formerly free spending customers skimp and save on food and treats for beloved pets, with pooch owners forgoing new toys and accessories altogether. Personally, I used to spend $40 weekly without batting an eye, but as my income began to shrink I reduced my pet-spending in the store by 25%.

Mom & Pop shared their woes with me, and as a local business owner and blogger, I listened. They knew which pet owners in the surrounding communities were unemployed, which were about to be foreclosed upon, and which had confidentially inquired about adoptions for four-footed family members they could no longer afford to feed. The owners saw credit lines shrink, inventory suppliers demand cash, and modest local pet specialty bakeries and accessory designers fail. Though the proprietors were past the age of raising children or funding college tuitions, retirement now looked impossible as their savings were slashed and the sales value of their store lessened.

I have seen neighborhoods devalued by swelling numbers of foreclosed homes and communities devastated by burgeoning numbers of empty storefronts. I have watched professional acquaintances and personal friends lose their businesses, their jobs, and their self esteem, even as I have suffered many professional set-backs. I do what I can to counsel those in serious danger of foreclosure without compensation, and I try to remember that as long as I have a roof over my head and enough food to feed my family and pets, I am better off than those who need the cans of beans and bags of pasta I am able to contribute to the food banks.

The $12 I didn't save at the pet store would have been almost enough for school lunches for my son for a week, or gone towards the co-pay of a medication I have delayed picking up. And though the $12 may have been just a pittance of Mom & Pop Shopkeeps' overhead, I am firm in my belief that by my not using the coupon I was bolstering their bottom-line as well as their confidence in hanging on for another week or two. Because if their store fails, my neighborhood falters from the loss of yet another locally owned enterprise, which diminishes both the long-term value of my real estate and the day -to-day quality of life. In my little corner of the world, I am trying to stretch $12 as far as it will possibly go.