According to a report conducted by Yelp, as of late August, around 60 percent of the nearly 164,000 businesses listed on the platform that had closed during the pandemic would not be reopening. Those numbers are bleak and emblematic of the far-reaching implications COVID-19 has had on people and their livelihood. The good news is that this holiday season, you can help to keep that number from soaring higher than necessary by learning how to support small businesses.
“The most important part of supporting small businesses is to shop with love and care, remembering that there are real humans behind each store,” says Jessica J. Palacios, manager of Once Upon a Time Bookstore in Los Angeles, the oldest children’s bookstore in the United States. “The beauty of small businesses is that each of us is unique, and customers shouldn’t expect and don’t want the same service that they get at big-box stores. Instead they get personal recommendations, vibrant communities, and the passion of supporting an entrepreneur’s dream.”
And even this year, amid the pandemic, there are a number of different answers for how to support small businesses you love over the holidays. Below, learn 11 of them, straight from the business owners themselves.
1. Shop early—like, really early
Do you have a beloved store that you want to see open in 2021? “Shop there now,” says Searah Deysach, owner of Early to Bed, Chicago’s first woman-owned sex shop. “Don’t wait until the third week of December to make your holiday purchases.”
Shopping early is especially kind to online retailers, which might get more and more overwhelmed with requests as the weeks move closer to holidays. “This will ensure orders can be fulfilled to arrive on time for holiday celebrations,” says Blair Armstrong, founder of skin-care brand Gilded. “Shopping early from small businesses will not only make you feel better about your spending, but also offers a major vote of support to a handful of the many companies that deserve it.”
2. Practice kindness and patience
Erica Feldmann, owner of metaphysical store HausWitch in Salem, Massachusetts, says a good way to support small businesses right now is with not only money, but also patience.
“We’re dealing with supply-chain issues, shipping issues, and many more COVID-related bummers without the problem-solving bandwidth of major corporations,” says Feldmann. “Lend us your patience with things like shipping times and items going out of stock.”
3. Support with your voice if you can’t with your wallet
Your voice is powerful, especially when it comes to positive reviews, so consider leaving authentic raves on your favorite shops’ Google, Yelp, or social media page. “It’s amazing what a difference a few kind words can make,” says Emma Spivey, founder and creator of Austin-based CBD brand Her Royal Hempress.
If you already have a beloved product, get creative and share a cute photo of it. “Small business love to see their customers getting inspired by their product, and potential customers love to see that the product matches the description,” Spivey says.
5. Meet local businesses where they are
If you’re able to safely shop in person (masked up and socially distanced, of course), know it can be helpful for retailers who only operate out of a brick-and-mortar. “Supporting local businesses means shopping at their store and sharing what drew you to that business with others,” says Palacios.
6. Think local when you’re feeling uninspired in gifting
When you’re feeling a sense of present fatigue or are about to default on something generic, pause and consider what charming offerings a small business might offer.
“Look to locally owned businesses to have unique and artisan-made items you can’t find at major retailers,” says Emily Corkum, co-owner of Detroit-based lifestyle shop New Americana. “Even the smallest purchase can make a difference.”
7. Double up on baked goods and food
Don’t ignore your local eateries! Even if the holiday dinner table has fewer seats this year, with friends and family staying at their own respective tables, there’s still room in the fridge for goods from local purveyors.
“Every holiday season, we see an uptick in baked good sales at our gluten-free café and bakery, as our community stocks up for their entertaining needs,” says Jemiko L. Solo, chef and owner of NYC restaurant and shop Senza Gluten. “A great way to support your local bakeries, butchers, and specialty food stores is to buy just as much as you usually would for a large holiday gathering, and freeze the extra or give as a gift, rather than sizing down your shopping lists this year.”
8. Reimagine how you typically shop for others
This year, Deysach plans to address her holiday gift list in reverse order. “First, I’m listing the shops I want to support, and then I am plugging in the people to buy for at each shop,” she says. “That way, I know I’ll be supporting the small and local retail places that I would be devastated to lose.”
But what if you have a specific gift in mind, already—like if your nephew wants a certain LEGO set or your dad wants a particular Stephen King book? Well, you can still think beyond the huge corporations. “If you see something you want at a big box shop or website, spend a few more minutes Googling to see if you can get it locally,” says Deysach. “It may cost a few dollars more, but the money stays in your community, and you’re helping your local economy survive.”
9. Look into extended Black Friday deals, and encourage others to do the same
“We’re offering 20 percent off purchases over $175 through December, and many other small businesses are similarly extending their sales so that clients have access to our lowered prices,” says Carroll Lee, founder of food delivery system Provenance Meals. “Many small businesses are also participating in Giving Tuesday—we’re donating 5 percent of all sales to Kiss the Ground, a nonprofit focused on regenerative agriculture—so by looking for retailers that are giving back to the community, you’re supporting two organizations at once.”
10. Shop directly by being direct with the shop
“If they don’t have a deal available for the product you want, send the business a quick email,” says Joe Vela, co-founder of Philadelphia-based pleasure-tech brand Emojibator. “We often send personalized coupon offers, and we love chatting with our customers.”
11. Shop with values in mind
“Being selective with where you choose to spend your money is vital and will be sure to make all the difference,” Armstrong says. “2020 has been a challenging year for not only Black-owned businesses, like [Gilded], but all small businesses as well. That’s why this winter holiday shopping season has the potential to make or break the success of small businesses.”
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