Staying Close to Home

Shopping Local impacts your local community in positive ways.

Big Differences Come from Shopping Small

The coronavirus pandemic has certainly left a bruise on Michigan’s economy; however, it hit smaller businesses a bit harder, as they rely far more on local walk-in sales curbed by the outbreak than online sales that have not.

“Most small businesses like mine in Michigan were closed for three months without the infrastructure in place for shopping online,” said Julia Kepler, owner of Serendipity Road, a Midland gift store. “The holiday season is critical for small businesses, which make up for nearly half of the year’s sales — and this year with the three-month closure is vital for any small business.”

While that has made it particularly acute for local businesses to draw local shoppers, “we need to be looking at the bigger picture, and Michigan as a whole has a lot to gain by shopping local,” Kepler said. “If we would switch 1 out of 10 of our out-of-state purchases to a local purchase, Michigan would see a $1.2 billion increase in economic activity, 10,600 new jobs and $350 million in increased income.”

Those local purchases make all the difference in supporting a vibrant, unique local shopping scene.

“Even after the pandemic, it’s amazing how many people have come. … Our doors opened and everybody just came to support us,” said Barb Schian, owner of Pride and Country Village, a collection of specialty shops in Saginaw. “It’s been wonderful, actually. I never anticipated coming out of this as a business the way that we are right now.

“And I think a lot of it is because (with a) small business you have people. You bond with them. You have regulars. It’s different,” she added. “It’s not like going into a big-box store and having a different cashier every time you walk into the door. With small business, it’s more personable. They feel part of us.”

That money doesn’t just stay in-state as profit; much of it gets recirculated around the communities these small businesses serve.

“The health of most local/regional businesses is connected. When one flourishes, others tend to flourish. When one struggles, others tend to struggle. The pandemic has magnified this effect; in some cases, it could be compared to dominoes falling,” said Lori Libka, communications assistant for Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland, Frankenmuth’s iconic holiday store.

“For example, a retailer who lost months of business due to the closure and is now experiencing fewer sales — (by) year-to-year comparison — isn’t ordering as much new product, so vendors lose sales,” she continued. “Perhaps they can’t afford to run their regular advertising schedule, so broadcast and print outlets lose dollars.”

At Serendipity Road, Kepler has been working hard to put customers at ease despite the ongoing pandemic,

“We extended our hours by two hours to give shoppers extra time to shop,” she said. “We have a hands-free hand sanitizing station outside of the store, so everything stays clean. We temperature check before we work; wear masks; have a regimented cleaning schedule; and offer over-the-phone shopping, curbside pickup, porch delivery in Midland starting in November and online shopping.”

The Options of Going Local

Want to shop locally but are worried about the coronavirus? Don’t fret. Small-business owners can work with you to get you what you need and keep you feeling comfortable. Here’s some advice from business people in the Great Lakes Bay Region:

  • Safety comes first. Many small-business owners are maintaining social distancing, enforcing store occupancy limits and providing hand sanitizer to keep customers safe and spaced apart.
  • Call first. Small-shop owners may be more flexible than chain stores in accommodating shoppers through custom or special hours, creating improvised purchase pickup or delivery options, and whatever else work for both seller and buyer.
  • Check online. The pandemic has led many small businesses to start offering products through shop websites. Others are selling through eBay shops or listing deals via social media.

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