For small business owners, it’s difficult to avoid thinking about the economy right now, no matter how fed up we all may be with news about unemployment, government bailouts, and the stock market.

For those in the retail business, this preoccupation with the economy might lately have turned into an obsession over sales. Many are worrying whether they’ll make the numbers they need to survive in the coming year.

Although I’m not a tea retailer, my success is inextricably linked to that of the tea industry, which World Tea News serves. And although I’ve only been part of the industry for nine months, I already love it. Beyond the narrow scope of my own professional survival, I want tea retail to thrive so it can continue to nourish the many dedicated individuals I’ve met who run their specialty tea businesses not only to put money in their pockets, but also to make the world a better place.

So, I too have been thinking a lot lately about tea sales, and what can be done to make sure they stay healthy during the recession.

Here’s something I’ve come up with: Shop more.

Yes, I know the credit crisis has made simple living fashionable again. And – ask anyone who knows me – I’m no fan of mindless consumerism (quite the opposite, in fact).

I’m not proposing that we buy more junk we don’t need, but that we learn to support those like-minded retailers whose vitality will contribute to a culture in which specialty tea sales can flourish; for instance, gourmet food shops, book sellers, antique dealers, jewelry makers, massage therapists.

I teach yoga in my spare time, and I’ve seen a dramatic fall-off in class attendance over the last few months. I understand that people see yoga as a luxury item, and that some luxury items must be cut from strained budgets.

But if you’re a tea room owner, you of all people should understand the abstract necessity of certain “luxury” items. And you of all people should understand the necessity of supporting your fellow small businessmen and -women.

What I’m proposing is this: Instead of completely dropping your yoga classes, or nixing your plans to give someone jewelry for Christmas, try retooling your budget so that you can still afford some items from specialists like yourself. Maybe get fewer massages, or spend half what you normally would on gourmet food. Maybe give up some mainstream, big-box shopping in favor of visiting more downtown boutiques.

Even more importantly, as you execute this strategy, encourage others to do the same every chance you get – on your web site, in your blog and newsletters, to your customers. Perhaps talk to the book seller or antique dealer on your block about events and co-promotions that can help both your businesses during this difficult time.

My point is that we’re all in this together – not just tea retailers, but all those who are making products, offering services, and running businesses that rely on consumers who are committed to a lifestyle of meaningful choices and rich experiences. If we can continue to cultivate this attitude in ourselves and all those we touch, even during a recession, we can help breed other like-minded shoppers.

In other words, to revise Mahatma Gandhi’s famous quip, be the consumer you want to see in the world.

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