An eastern Iowa entrepreneur urges shoppers to avoid the big box stores on Black Friday and to instead support their communities by buying their holiday gifts from hometown merchants. Steve Semken runs the Ice Cube Press in North Liberty, a book publisher that focuses on Midwestern authors. Semken says it’s important to spend your dollars locally.

“There’s lots of reasons why, but one of them is that you respect the area you live in, for one thing, if you consider buying local or going to small businesses.” Coming from the world of writing and literature, the 49-year-old Semken has a gift suggestion for that special person on your shopping list.

Semken says, “The ultimate local thing to do would be to buy a book by a local author about where you live at a bookstore that’s owned by someone that lives next to you, so you can not only learn about where you live but you can support everyone that lives around you.” One of the books he’s published recently, “River of Ghosts” by former University of Northern Iowa English professor Robert Gish, is set in the Cedar River Valley.

Semken says most readers get a thrill from being able to identify elements first-hand in what they’re reading. “Like in the movies, people will go, ‘Hey, I recognize that spot,’ well, it’s the same in a book,” Semken says. “If you’re reading a book and all of the sudden you read the name of Waterloo or you read about the Cedar River, you’re still able to take yourself to that spot and imagine what it would be like to be there.”

While he’s in the ink-and-paper book business, Semken notes that all of the titles under his publishing banner are also available as e-books. “What’s more important to me is that people are reading,” he says. “I appreciate people reading more than I appreciate the way the book looks, so in the end, I offer both.”