I am a shopkeeper in St. Helena, and my recent tour of other shopping areas has given me reason to reflect on how lucky we are. Other areas have fallen victim to what I call “creeping sameness” where every shop has the identical merchandise, giant stores are morphing into groceries, banks and pharmacies, and where the same half dozen chain stores have crowded out anything locally owned so that Main Street is indistinguishable from every other Main Street in America.

Yet, thanks to the foresight and perseverance of planners, citizens and shopkeepers who were thinking about this long before I came on the scene, every shop in St. Helena is unique. You would be hard pressed to find another store with the thoughtful elegance of Vintage Home or the timeless glamour of Patina and Palladium, or the balance between style and function found at Sportago.

At my own store, Pennaluna, and in its prior incarnations, we’ve spent years ferreting out one-of-a-kind items and unique artists while maintaining affordability. St. Helena’s hardware store and local market are top-notch, and we enjoy that rare wonder: a local bookstore owned by a bookseller who knows both books and her customers.

Creeping sameness has been kept at bay all over our lovely town.

But I truly feel this retail environment is in danger, and not just as a result of the severe economic downturn which continues to hold us all in its grip.

It seems that other businesses in town and our local customers think that tourists or rich shoppers are keeping us all afloat, and that cherished local businesses will always be around even if locals don’t shop there. We know, however, that this is not true.

Ben Franklin is gone. So are Vanderbilt and Whiting, Riverhouse Books and Twenty-six and Dragonfly and Tapioca Tiger. I know that change is natural and that lots of stores came and left before my time here. But as of 2010 the stores, as well as restaurants, wineries and other local businesses, have been struggling too hard for too long with no real end in sight.

There’s a long, cold winter ahead, and it is inevitable that other shops will close, shopkeepers will retire, storefronts will sit empty for years or be replaced with offices or wellness centers or what have you. I’m not aware of any shopkeeper who doesn’t have some concerns about the direction in which St. Helena retail may be heading. Yet none of us can afford to go out and drop a bundle at a local shop just in the spirit of goodwill right now (or if you can, please report to my shop immediately). So what can we do about it?

• First, all local business owners and property owners should pause and reflect for a moment on how interdependent we are. Property values are enhanced by the charm of the downtown area. Visitors come up to the wine country to shop, eat, taste wine, perhaps have a spa treatment and stay the night. Local shopkeepers make hundreds of local restaurant recommendations every day. We are asked to recommend hotels, and to provide directions to wineries. We in turn would be invaluably helped if concierges, restaurateurs and winery owners knew what we carried, sent us customers, and gave us menus and directions and coupons to help us send customers their way.

Downtown retailers are in many ways the canaries in the coal mine of the local tourist economy, and we’ve all seen what happens when visiting a small town where the storefronts are empty, and soon it’s the restaurants, and finally it’s not worth visiting any longer.

In short, we in the community of local businesses need to step up our game and support one another more.

• Second, locals need to live the values that they want to see in this community. I am in awe of the amount of time and attention given by citizens to the planning process and in communicating to their leaders what they like, and don’t like, in their City. Yet a person can’t rail against development, insist on local-serving businesses owned by resident shopkeepers who are their friends and neighbors, protest against chain-stores, and then do all of their shopping online or at Wal-Mart.

I’m suggesting that shopping smarter involves making a conscious decision about when it makes sense to buy mass-produced goods at the lowest possible price, and when it makes sense to buy unique goods from local vendors, often enough to say to your local shopkeepers: we care that you’re here, we have made a choice to support you, we give our friends and co-workers and teachers and family members gifts from your store so that they’ll know that supporting local business is among our core values.

If we don’t walk the talk of a vibrant local-serving shopping district, then we will have made a choice through inaction, and the future we will have chosen, for good or bad, may eventually include a Target on the corner of Adams and Main, and perhaps a Starbucks or two — oh, I forgot; Target already includes a Starbucks, and that’s creeping sameness for you.

(Laura Rafaty is the owner of Pennaluna, formerly Murray n Gibbs, a resident of St. Helena, a former attorney and Broadway theatrical producer and a published author and columnist.)