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Why supporting independent businesses means everybody wins

The positive ripple effect of supporting local, independently-owned businesses now and year-round

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With the holiday shopping surge underway, there’s no question that how we shop this year will be on our minds as much as what’s on our lists. With restrictions on store capacity and a mixed level of comfort about in-person shopping, plus increased online shopping habits fed by months of staying at home, it might be easy to forget the importance of “shopping local.” But, as many independent business owners will advise, don’t let that draw you entirely into big box and dot-com worlds.

In 2010, American Express launched “Small Business Saturday,” an initiative intended to drive traffic to local businesses the Saturday following Black Friday, the post-Thanksgiving shopping day that’s become the official kick-off to the holiday shopping season. It became a nationally recognized movement that’s contributed not only to bottom lines of locally-owned businesses, but also the mindset of the shoppers who patronize them. Now, with small neighborhood retailers already reeling from challenges stemming from the pandemic, their need for consumer support is greater than ever before.

Stefanie Lyon, owner of Nicole Miller at The Forum Carlsbad
Stefanie Lyon, owner of Nicole Miller at The Forum Carlsbad

Fortunately, many in the community already recognize their role in helping to sustain local and independently owned businesses, and that’s been the difference-maker for many boutiques, restaurants, and services that otherwise may not have survived. “We have a lot of people who do come in and say, ‘We want to support our local boutiques. We’d rather do that than go online,’” says Stefanie Lyon, who owns Nicole Miller in The Forum Carlsbad. “We love seeing our clients and feeling like it’s normal again when people come in and want to chat, and we’re respectful of all of the rules, but we’re just grateful to still be here and have our local support.”

Irina Rachow, owner of Fairen Del in Del Mar Highlands and co-owner of Sheridan at Rancho Valencia, has felt that resounding support from her clientele as well. “They’re always asking us ‘Are you OK?’” she says. “We’re finding that people are coming in not just to shop but to connect.” It’s a common sentiment among local retailers: they are much more than a place to shop, to eat, to take a spin class. “People sometimes forget the fact that we’re your friends, we’re your neighbors, we hire and we train the people you know, and that’s who you see,” explains Rachow. “We become a real connection. We show up to your local functions — sometimes we’re hosting those local functions — and we partner with lots of local foundations. Small businesses are basically the latticework of the entire community, and that’s across this entire nation.

It’s not just altruism that draws customers through their doors, however. Independently owned and specialty shops have the ability to create unique, customized, and personal environments that are impossible to replicate in an online experience or at a mass market retailer. Direct interaction with customers means owners have their finger on the pulse of what shoppers want to find in-store. In response to her clients’ changing needs, Lyon quickly adjusted her product mix to include more casual wear in her store, which has historically held a strong niche in wedding and formal apparel. Though she did add an e-commerce offering when stay-at-home orders went into effect in order to continue to serve her clients while her physical doors were shut, she also provides additional touches like curbside pickup and personal home delivery for the ultimate customer service. “We don’t just buy and sell, we create all the time, and that’s what keeps it special. Larger retailers aren’t doing that — they’re not having as much fun with it as smaller stores are,” adds Rachow, whose signature decadent gift-wrapping is a major draw for her clients.

Adrian Newell, book buyer at independent bookseller and La Jolla institution Warwick’s, agrees. “The beauty of an independent business is that we can be more nimble about switching up services or adding services, or making these exceptions to general rules in our interface with customers because there’s not all that bureaucratic red tape,” she says. She views the role of independent retailers in an even broader way, saying that they not only enhance our experience and lifestyle within a community, but also significantly contribute to our local economies by investing in brick and mortar, paying payroll taxes, engaging charitable partnerships, and more. She’s not exaggerating. According to a 2018 study conducted by American Express, 67 cents of every dollar spent at local businesses stay within that community. “At some point, you vote with your dollars in a way [by] supporting an independent business. It’s crucial to infrastructure,” says Newell.

Warwick’s is the oldest family-owned independent bookstore in the country
Warwick’s is the oldest family-owned independent bookstore in the country

This year, Small Business Saturday may better serve as a reminder of the value of our relationships with local businesses rather than a one-day shopping event. “Amazon’s going to be just fine after this,” laughs Newell. But these independent gems that enhance our neighborhoods need support more than ever, and long after the holidays are over. “We have deep roots in this community, and we want to continue to do that, and provide for the generation that is in strollers right now,” says Newell. As it turns out, thinking local is thinking big, after all. nicolemillersandiego.com, fairendel.com, warwicks.com

Image Credits Stefanie Lyon: Photo by Jennifer Nelson

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