A more crucial year to buy local probably hasn’t happened since the inception of Small Business Saturday in 2010, when American Express championed the consumer-centered observance to boost small business America, which was then struggling amid a recession.
Area chamber of commerce directors agree, the campaign to buy local needs citizen buy-in during the economic slowdown.
In an American Express-commissioned study, 62% of U.S. small businesses reported they need to see consumer spending return to pre-COVID levels by the end of 2020 in order to stay in business. The estimated number of consumers who participated in Small Business Saturday 2019 was 110 million, according to the federal Small Business Administration (SBA).
Candy Hente, executive director of the Farmington Regional Chamber of Commerce, said she sees the concern from owners. “Right now, it’s so tricky. When the shutdown happened and things opened back up, many small businesses were breathing a sigh of relief,” she said. “But many are reporting they’re just not getting the same traffic they had before COVID-19, and they’re worried.”
Hente said she’s aware many people are embracing the convenience and COVID safety of ordering things online, and pointed out online buying can still include local options.
“Our local businesses often have websites from which people can shop from their own couches,” she said. “We’re working on a list right now, to share with our members, that includes all of our members who have online stores. There’s several businesses who have online stores where people can still shop directly local.”
Hente said the chamber hopes to launch its Eat Shop Play in the Parkland app on Dec. 1.
“So if you’re looking for fun things to do or neat things to buy, we’re adding more information all the time,” she said. “Everyone wants more restaurants and more stores, but if we don’t support what we have, we won’t see more options. Companies, businesses look at the numbers on how the community can support local business, when they’re deciding where they want to go.”
Bonne Terre Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Leigha Head, who was once an accountant, said she appreciates the full economic picture painted by local businesses.
“They pay property taxes, there are sales taxes, payroll taxes, income taxes, and all of it supports our communities,” she said. “Very rarely do business owners get a huge return on their investment, but they’re not there to get rich, they’re passionate about their business and want to add value to the community.”
Earlier this month, the Bonne Terre Chamber of Commerce hosted its annual Cookie Trail, which encourages citizens to venture into small businesses to gain prizes and “Bonne Terre bucks,” but also to help shoppers scope out the gift-buying opportunities before Christmas.
“Cookie Trail is sort of the prelude to Small Business Saturday, so people can see what’s out there,” she said. “And at that time of year, just to remind people of what we have here.
"We’re pushing people to buy restaurant gift cards, especially, because our restaurants are always here for us. Feeding football players, feeding families, sponsoring sports teams. We need to support our local restaurants.
“I posted a meme on Facebook recently: ‘Buy local or 'Bye, Local,' and I really believe that. We have got to support the backbone of our community, small business.”
Cheri Henderson said since she became Desloge Chamber of Commerce executive director last May, she’s developed a heartfelt, newfound appreciation for the business owners in her membership.
“When you work with businesses face to face, it makes a big difference to our insight. It’s a priority for the board, but also mine, to steer everyone to local businesses. When we’re supporting our local businesses, we’re supporting local families,” she said.
Henderson said she disagreed with the perception that online or corporate retailers can offer the best bang for the buck for the local consumer compared to smaller competitors.
“I go into these small business, these boutiques, and honestly, the prices are comparable to chain or box stores. Even if you find it at a discount at a box store, the monetary turnover within the community, by spending money at a local small business, brings greater returns to everyone’s community, and ultimately to the local economy that benefits us all.
“We’re supporting our friends and families. That’s a big deal. Shopping at local stores makes a big difference.”
To that end, the Desloge Chamber of Commerce is putting on “Business Bingo” on Friday and Saturday. Participants can pick up Bingo cards at Mi Office, 220 N. Lincoln St., or the Lincoln Street Event Center, 112 N. Lincoln St., and visit all 25 locations to be entered for a $100 drawing, or five locations in a row to be entered to win $50, or visit any five stores to be entered to win $25. Signatures from the vendors on the grid will provide proof of the visit before participants drop their Bingo card through the Chamber mail slot at 200 N. Lincoln St.
“It’s a way to help the public know what goods and services we have here, and how important they are to our town,” Henderson said. “If we’re hiking somewhere else to shop, these business owners are not going to have the dollars to market their own store.
“I’m lucky enough to have this opportunity to see all of the amazing deals and retail outlets that exist in our own backyard. Really, Small Business Saturday needs to be year-round.”
Park Hills-Leadington Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Tammy Coleman agreed, and repeated the sentiment that this year, shopping local is crucial to several local families’ financial future.
“This year it means there’s no place else to shop than your local business. They need your support more than any other corporation does,” she said. “They’ve been struggling all year long, they’re treading water and they need us.
“They’ve been there for us when we’ve needed them—volunteering, sponsoring kids’ teams, donating goods, services, food to people who really need help. We need to be there for them at this crucial time when they need us most.
Coleman said her chamber is putting together a shop-local program they’re hoping to unveil at the first of the year.
“We’ve been lucky, our businesses have been hanging on, we had a gift card program we did earlier this year, and I’ve seen a lot of people do seem to be supporting our small businesses,” she said. “They just have to hang on a little longer. I know there’s a fear of another closure, I’m not sure they would survive another closure.”
Coleman said since many local boutiques and small businesses have online platforms for gift cards, as well as mailing and curbside delivery, those wanting to take every coronavirus precaution should be assured there are safe options to shop local.
“And often, it’s best if you have a question, check here first,” she said. “Rely on us chambers if you need information. If you have a question about a business and need to get ahold of them, or you’re looking for something and need help finding it, give us a call, check out our website, message us through Facebook. We’re here to support our communities through growing local business.”
Sarah Haas is the assistant editor for the Daily Journal. She can be reached at 573-518-3617 or at email@example.com.