I have, again, learned the most important rule of Christmas shopping – buy in Forest Park! Like you, I was drawn to other suburbs by the siren song of incredible sales. But wisely, I looked in Forest Park before handing over the debit card.

In the past, I had proven to myself that Forest Park was the best place to buy TVs, vacuum cleaners, lamps, books, tea, flowers, wine, candy, cooking ware – well, you get the idea. But I had to convince myself all over again.

The big gift this year was an electric guitar for my teenage son. He’s already a seasoned veteran of Guitar Hero and Rock Band and wanted the real thing. I didn’t want to invest too much money in a present that might end up sitting silently next to the pottery wheel and other failed gifts.

So, I visited the music stores in far-flung suburbs that screamed about their low prices on the radio. I had a great time. Next to reference librarians, music store clerks are the most helpful people in the world.

Most of them are musicians eager to share their expertise. One tried to sell me a guitar in the $200 to $400 range. Another told me to buy the starter guitar kit, complete with amp. An amp was something I didn’t need, because I’d already purchased a powerful one from Kagan & Gaines in Forest Park. The amp was so good; I decided to check out their guitars. On the way, I stopped at Forest Park National Bank and conferred with a guitar-playing teller. He recommended a Squire, which I had seen in suburbia for less than $200.

Mark and I went to Kagan & Gaines, where the soon-to-be-famous Cheryl Lynn Tomblin assisted us. Cheryl is a singer-songwriter who plays at many well-known clubs. She took us to the guitar room. There on the wall was a Squire for $10 less than Guitar Center’s fire sale price. Cheryl plugged it in and conducted a mini guitar lesson for Mark. After he learned a few chords, we purchased the guitar on the layaway plan.

So there you have it: all the components of successful Christmas shopping. Convenience – Kagan & Gaines is only a few blocks away; selection – a guitar-filled room; friendly, knowledgeable service – duh; and the lowest price.

Plus, the best part, the money stays in town. On the way home, I stressed to Mark the importance of shopping locally. I explained that it keeps our merchants in business and pumps sales tax into our coffers. I think he gets the message. And, if he ever tires of being a guitar hero and wants to become the wild man of the band, he’ll know where to buy the drum set.