Over the past decade, the “Shop Local” movement has succeeded in convincing many consumers to consider their nearby, independently-owned businesses before handing their money over to national brands. As the holiday shopping season begins, champions of the cause are concerned that shoppers will abandon their local store in favor of the safety and perceived convenience of online retail giants.
That concern is particularly pressing because small, independent businesses provide not just a sense of individuality – they also serve as important parts of their local economy.
“They are the lifeblood of our community,” said Justin Slattery, executive director of the Belknap EDC, a nonprofit economic development organization. “If you can shop local, do it all the time, but especially this year.”
For many small businesses, making it to the 2020 holiday season has required navigating a series of existential challenges. The governor declared a “Stay at 永续合约交易所_永续合约怎么home” order in the spring, to halt the spread of coronavirus. When stores could reopen, they had a new set of health guidelines to follow, and they had to convince customers that it was safe to shop.
That last part has been one of the more difficult of the challenges.
“We are going out of our way, and have since mid-March, to accommodate people,” said Melissa McCarthy, one of the owners of The Studio, a gift shop in downtown Laconia. “When we were closed for in-person shopping, I was in here building our website, we were taking orders for people and shipping.”
Turned off by crowds? McCarthy allows shoppers to reserve a private shopping experience on days when she’s normally closed. For shoppers who didn’t want to shop online or in the store, she would offer a “video concierge” service, using video call services to show customers around the store. When they decided on the purchase, McCarthy offer to mail the items, bring them out to the sidewalk for curbside pick-up, or even delivering to the customer's door.
“We’re making it as easy and as comfortable with people as possible,” McCarthy said. “Clearly, I can’t compete with Amazon, but my hope is that, for things that people would buy here, they would continue to buy here.”
Denise Roy-Palmer, executive director of the Wentworth Economic Development Corporation in Wolfeboro, said she has watched this year as small mom-and-pop businesses have adapted to rapidly changing circumstances.
“Businesses always have to be innovative when they’re faced with a challenge,” Roy-Palmer said. She added that spending money with a local store means that the owners and employees will be able to afford the products and services they need, and that they will likely also look to other local businesses for their needs.
“Local dollars circulate locally. They’re businesses that are owned by your neighbors, the employees they hire are local, the dollars just continue to circulate locally. That’s not going to happen online from the big firms like Amazon,” Roy-Palmer said.
Local businesses are, quite literally, invested in their community, she said, and it shows.
“There are several examples of that,” Roy-Palmer said, referring to the Saphouse Meadery in Ossipee, and the brewery and tavern Burnt Timber in Wolfeboro, as examples. “Their focus is to buy as much product locally as they can, and have (it) available in their restaurant. Whether making mead or beer, there’s a true sense of community there.”
Businesses backing businesses
That can be true for retail, too. At The Gilford Country Store, owner Kathy Tognacci has created a treasure trove of all things Winnipesaukee – apparel, signage, drinkware, even games, all inspired by Lakes Region locales. Not only does her merchandise reflect the local environment, it is more and more created by local crafters and artisans, a group of people who suffered this year because of the many craft fairs that were canceled. So this fall, Tognacci doubled the footprint of her store to give them a place to display their creations.
“I have opened up my store and I am just putting in local crafters,” Tognacci said. “So think of all the local crafters that have a place to sell their stuff.” She said she has products created by about 100 different local crafters.
“Inside our local business is a hundred other local businesses,” Tognacci said. “Supporting Gilford Country Store is one thing, but you’re supporting 100 other businesses,” by shopping at her store. More often than not, she added, something made locally is of higher quality.
“Most of the stuff was made here, and heart and soul was put into it,” Tognacci said.
Better quality products, and with better service, too, promised McCarthy at The Studio.
“I will compliment them on their mask, or hair, or glasses. I know everything in my store, and because of the way we stock, almost everything has a story. I can tell you that I hand-picked every scarf in a line, and I talked to the woman who cuts the fabric and hand-sews it. I can tell you that a product is made by a stay-at-永续合约交易所_永续合约怎么home mom, that I’ve stocked something for 10 years now. I have stories about everything I stock.”
Slattery, at the Belknap EDC, said he can count on finding unique gifts at places such as Hermit Woods Winery in Meredith, or coffee at Wayfarer Coffee Roasters in Laconia. If the anxiety of the times makes it too challenging to select a specific item, he suggested gift cards.
“Any time you shop local first, it will be a big help for our local economy,” Slattery said. “Our small businesses, our Main Street businesses, have worked really hard to navigate the challenges of this past year… We’re all in this together. If folks can shop local, you’re supporting your neighbor, you’re supporting your community.”