When we ask people about their opinion of the Gila Valley, a few responses seem to come up quite often.

“There’s not enough shopping.” “We need more activities for our children.” “Why can’t we get a Costco or an Olive Garden?”

To which we invariably reply, “Take advantage of the great Mom and Pop stores we have here. Most have what you’re looking for; and, if the store doesn’t have it, most owners are happy to order it just for you.”

As we know, that shop local message seems to fall of deaf ears, especially among Freeport employees who, when given a few days off in a row, can’t get out of town fast enough to spend money in a different city.

We understand why, after working crazy, changing shifts for weeks on end, Freeport employees want to just get away. Especially those living in Morenci, where there’s enough less to do than in Safford.

But that understanding doesn’t help our local school districts or streets departments, where money that would be coming to them via taxes from shopping local are, instead, helping the schools and streets of San Diego, Anaheim, Phoenix or Tucson.

So let’s try a different approach:

Go out of town. Enjoy the amenities of those places where you travel, and shop to your heart’s content.

However, when you pay, be sure to give the cashier your zip code and get on the e-mail list.

We know that flies in the face of the last decade or so of being told to not give away personal information. And we’re certainly not suggesting you give away anything important, such as Social Security numbers, addresses, phone numbers or mother’s maiden name.

But making sure every place you spend money has your zip code means those businesses are seeing that there is a potential customer base in the Gila Valley. For example, if every Safford, Thatcher and Pima resident who back-to-school shopped at Ross, Burlington Coat Factory or Target in Tucson and Phoenix the last few weeks shared their zip codes, those three retailers would realize there is a market here.

Whether this market is big enough to support development of a store remains debatable — there are many factors that go into store expansion, including population of the community in which the store is to be located, population in a 60-mile radius and average income — but it puts this area on those companies’ radar. And that’s a good thing.

Rather than complaining that there’s no water park or minigolf for the kids, tell the Phoenix water park or the Tucson minigolf that you come from this area and others here are interested in what they have to offer. The same goes for big box retailers, boutiques and restaurants.

Doing so won’t get us an In-n-Out or a Hobby Lobby overnight, but it will certainly get the conversation started.

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