MINT HILL, NC – In a year in which many small businesses were forced to endure prolonged closures or severely limit the scope of their business due to COVID-19, it’s more important than ever that we shop local this holiday season.
“Imagine having no income for almost half of the year,” says Kat DePrater, owner of The Gift Workshop, which was forced to close for five months this year due to the pandemic. “Imagine being too small or too new of a business to qualify for pandemic loans. Now imagine opening back up, with a huge reduction in numbers allowed, and the fear of being forced to close again, perhaps during your biggest selling months. It’s shattering.”
“At no point in business school did a professor prepare me for an international shut down,” continues DePrater. “The honest truth is, many retail stores won’t see 2021 as a brick and mortar if we don’t have a successful November and December.”
The solution seems simple: shop local! However, with COVID-19 cases continuing to rise, many people are understandably wary of venturing out to shop this holiday season. Their concern is echoed by the CDC, who recommends shopping online in lieu of frequenting crowded stores this holiday season.
Luckily, there are plenty of ways to check off everything on your shopping list without loading up your Amazon cart, and shopping local doesn’t have to mean being elbow-to-elbow with strangers in a crowded store.
Mint Hill’s small business owners take the corona virus seriously, and they’ve put a lot of thought, time and money into making sure their customers feel safe shopping in their stores. “We require masks to be worn by everyone – including children – unless they are being carried,” says Pam Eggleston, owner of Goodness Gracious Gifts & Interiors. “We offer hand sanitizer upon entering and exiting the store, and we offer disinfecting wipes for credit/debit cards after use. Our store typically only has three of four shoppers at a time, so social distancing is possible.”
Moreover, many of Mint Hill’s brick and mortar business owners are going above and beyond this year to provide alternate ways to shop for customers who aren’t interested in leaving home. “For those that don’t want to come in, we can take payment over the phone and walk it right out to the trunk of the car,” say Rebecca and Timothy, owners of Your Local Game Store. “No contact is necessary. Whatever keeps people safe and protected is fine with us. It’s our job to help people to the best of our ability.”
Your Local Game Store is one of many local brick and mortars who are reimagining what it means to “shop” local this year. Woof ‘n Hoof allows customers to purchase and pay over the phone; they can then deliver purchases curbside or leave items on the porch for a contactless delivery. Goodness Gracious offers inventory online at www.goodnessgraciousinteriors.com. The Gift Workshop loads videos and photographs on Facebook of hot new items, store specials and holiday shopping events. They offer curbside pickup, local porch drop delivery and nationwide shipping. DePrater will even conduct personal shopping appointments via FaceTime or Zoom for customers who want to see the store but can’t make it in.
However, “Mom & Pop Shops” in town aren’t the only way to shop local. Consider an artisan like Susan Tobelman, owner of Energy & Ore Custom Jewelry. Tobelman is currently the only artist in the Charlotte area who creates custom jewelry from precious metal clay, a craft medium consisting of finely ground precious metals mixed with water and an organic binder.
In lieu of a brick and mortar location, Tobelman sells her unique, made-to-order jewelry via her website, www.energyandorecustomjewelry.com, and her Facebook page, @energyandorejewelry. A self-described, “very, very small business,” Tobelman works from home by design.
“I don’t have a shop because I don’t like to sit down and just make things,” says Tobleman. “I like to have a person in mind. I like to make specifically for individuals; that’s where my creativity comes from. If i know a little bit about the person – what their style is, what their favorite colors are for stones – then I am able to get my creative juices flowing.”
Tobelman is currently taking orders for the holidays, and she prides herself on a level of service and customization you won’t get at a big box store. Tobelman is in contact with customers throughout the entire artistic process, sending pictures and making adjustments as necessary before pieces go into the kiln. In addition to standard jewelery, Tobelman also creates memorial pendants that encapsulate human or animal ashes. For local purchases, she meets customers at a mutually agreed upon locations and conducts a masked exchange. She accepts cash, PayPal and Venmo.
Sarah Turk is another local businesswoman who lacks a brick and mortar but runs a small business nonetheless. Turk’s online Zelah Jo Boutique offers a large selection of hand-picked apparel, accessories and home decor. Unlike Tobelman, Turk doesn’t create the items featured in her online store, but she works hard to “shop small” herself, offering items made by hand in the USA or by other small, female-owned businesses.
According to Turk, running a small business exclusively online brings its own unique challenges. “One thing that I’ve had to do is make sure that I let everyone know I have a boutique, it’s online, I have a Facebook page, I also have a website,” says Turk. “The biggest thing that is also hurting small businesses right now, I think, is that lots of people are taking social media breaks. When you’re a ‘social seller,’ that becomes a huge hurdle to hop over.”
You can browse Zelah Jo online at https://zelahjoboutique.com/ or follow it on Facebook @zelahjoboutique. “The biggest thing I think all independent shops can say this year, more than any, is shop small and shop local!” says Turk. “We are trying our hardest and pouring our hearts into our business harder than ever before because of this crazy world we live in. Supply has been hurt. Shipping is a nightmare. So start shopping now!”
Online marketplaces like Etsy can also be a great avenue for shopping local. Etsy is where Mint Hill-based artist Laura Forester sells her unique hand-woven scarves. “I started this Etsy shop during COVID,” says Forester, “when my regular home business editing transcripts for court reporters slowed way down. I’d been wanting to do this when I retired, and I thought, you know, I have the time now.”
A self-termed perfectionist, Forester is a prime example of the quality you get shopping local instead of buying mass-produced items. She prides herself on using a variety of different high-quality yarn and materials. Although Etsy is her chosen “sales channel,” Forester is happy to meet any local customers to deliver orders. You can browse her creations at https://www.etsy.com/shop/LittleHillsHandwoven, where she’s currently offering Mint Hill residents a 10% discount using the code MINTHILL10.
No matter whether you choose to shop in person or online, it’s clear that shopping local has never been more important than it is this year. “Shopping local helps to keep fellow community members employed,” say Rebecca and Timothy. “Shopping local keeps stores open for when things can get ‘back to normal.’ Local means community, excellent customer service, and love. We do what we do because we love our community. We love to see our regulars and to make a positive difference in someone’s life and day. We’re a business, but we’re members of the community. Amazon isn’t the person who can talk with you about what you love, share a bit of your day with, and find what you are looking for.”
“I take great pride in living and owning a business in Mint Hill,” says DePrater. “My hope is we all survive this and grow from it. Our decisions in the coming months do matter though – to our schools, our families, our friends, our local businesses. The first to step up and support many of the organizations in a community like ours are small businesses. We give throughout the year to athletic fundraisers, school fundraisers, and nonprofits. This is when we need that same support. We aren’t just businesses; we’re your neighbors. It’s important to know one another, support one another, and encourage one another, both personally and professionally.”