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Why shop local? 'The work of local artists is not sitting on cargo ships.'
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Why shop local? 'The work of local artists is not sitting on cargo ships.'

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As supply chain woes continue for large companies and retailers, small businesses, which are generally less reliant on global supply chains, are adapting quickly, making them a smart choice for holiday shopping.

“In general, small businesses tend to be a lot more nimble, a lot more fast on their feet in terms of adjusting to market conditions,” said Michael Arriola, North Carolina district director for the U.S. Small Business Administration.

That doesn’t mean small businesses aren’t facing challenges during this time.

The effects of the pandemic, including a labor shortage, are realities that small businesses throughout the state are still contending with daily.

But shopping small has added benefits that can drive money into local economies, making it not only a viable alternative right now, but one that can support your local community year-round.

We talked with Arriola, as well as Jennifer Martin with Shop Local Raleigh and local business owner Dave Wofford about the importance of shopping locally, and how small businesses are adapting during this time.

Here’s what we learned — including some tips and tricks you can use to shop small in North Carolina this holiday season.

Why are small businesses less vulnerable to supply chain issues?

Less reliant on the supply chain: Characteristically, small businesses are less reliant on the global supply chain, Arriola said.

Dave Wofford owns Durham-based Horse & Buggy Press, a graphic design, letterpress printing and book production studio combined with a fine craft and art gallery. The gallery sells everything from $40 handmade earrings to $5,000 “museum quality” paintings.

Wofford told The News & Observer that there’s a primary reason his small business isn’t affected by the current supply chain issues: “the work of local artists is not sitting on cargo ships.”

“I’ve been sort of saying that as a reminder that, hey, globally there’s this thing going on,” he said. “But if you’re aware of what’s going on in your community, you can still buy art and you can still buy meaningful holiday gifts and not be affected.”

Adjust quickly to delays: If small businesses do rely on the supply chain, they likely aren’t locked into complex contracts with their suppliers, making it easier for them to quickly adjust if delays or disruptions arise.

“If you’re an owner of a small retailer, and you’re not getting the service or the supply that you need, you pick up the phone and you go to another one,” Arriola said. “It’s not that easy for big box retailers, who are locked into these huge global contractual agreements.”

Resiliency, flexibility. By nature, small businesses and those who own them are also resilient and tend to have a fighting spirit, because their livelihood depends on it, Shop Local Raleigh executive director Jennifer Martin told The N&O.

“They figure things out because they have to,” Martin said. “They don’t have these giant 401Ks backing them up or huge investors supporting them.”

What challenges are small businesses facing?

But just because small businesses aren’t as affected by supply chain issues, that doesn’t mean they aren’t facing other challenges.

The labor shortage is a harsh reality for many local small businesses, and it’s forcing some of them to reduce their hours of operations, or even change their traditional holiday offerings, Martin said.

Restaurants that typically offer holiday catering or open their dining spaces for private events might be scaling back this year, and other businesses might be closing on various days of the week or cutting their hours of operation to preserve the energy of their limited staff.

Competition is a big problem. In general, small businesses also face competition from big box stores, chain stores and online retailers, and it can be hard to bring shoppers in-store as their first option.

Wofford hopes for a booming holiday shopping season for his business and others like it.

But many people don’t recognize that they have local options that could fix their shopping woes, he said.

“I still think, unfortunately, too many people think of buying gifts as something you do on your computer as opposed to going out.”

Why should I shop small?

It boosts the local economy. According to a study by American Express, an average of 67 cents per dollar spent at small businesses stays in the local economy.

The same study showed that every dollar spent at small businesses created an additional 50 cents of local business activity, generated through employee spending and businesses purchasing local goods and services from other small businesses in their community.

That money adds to the tax base of local communities and can support infrastructure such as roads, parks and schools.

“Shopping small is just not just a good thing to say, ‘Oh, yes, I did my good deed for the day,’” Arriola said. “But there’s also tremendous tangible benefits to you and I, because that money comes back to us in the form of investments and other expenditures that are then recirculated back into the local community.”

Those factors make it important to shop small all year, not just at the holidays, Arriola said.

“For various reasons, small businesses should be your first choice and not your sort of backup mechanism,” he said.

It’s fun. Shopping local can offer unique products and services that you might not find anywhere else, making it a fun shopping experience.

“I understand it’s not fun to go to Best Buy and be in line to buy a PlayStation,” Wofford said. “But hopefully it’s fun to go to a gallery and find a book, or a print, or a painting, or a piece of pottery or a piece of glass.”

How to shop small in the Triad

In-store. Despite the labor shortage, many stores are still open regularly and have plenty of inventory to shop from, Martin said. If you like to see and feel items before you buy, head out to your favorite small businesses and pay them a visit in-person. Tip: Check the store’s operating hours online or by calling before you go.

Online. Many small businesses have websites or social media accounts where they sell their products online. Contact your favorite business to see if they offer online shopping. The Greensboro Convention & Visitors Bureau Shop offers some suggestions for locally owned shops at visitgreensboronc.com/shop-greensboro. Tip: Shipping from local stores might take longer than the popular 2-day shipping options elsewhere, so plan ahead if you want something before Christmas. Curbside delivery or in-store pickup might also be available.

Holiday markets. The holiday season is full of seasonal pop-up markets, rife with artisans and local businesses ready to sell their products. Markets offer shoppers an opportunity to see lots of small businesses in one place — and check lots of gifts off your shopping list at once.

Small Business Saturday. Established in 2010, Small Business Saturday falls on the Saturday immediately following Thanksgiving, and is an opportunity to support local businesses as the holiday shopping season kicks off. Businesses might offer special discounts or other offers to celebrate. Check with your favorite local business to find out their plans for this year.

Buy gift cards. If you don’t have time to visit local businesses, or your loved ones are hard to shop for, many small businesses offer gift cards for purchase instead.

Tips for buying local in 2021

Check operating hours. With reduced staff, some stores and restaurants might be operating on limited hours. Check online or call before you head out to make sure your favorite store is open when you want to visit.

Be patient and understanding. Reduced staff can also mean that small businesses are stretched thin this holiday season. Be patient as you shop in-store or wait for your purchases to ship, and lend a little holiday cheer to store owners and employees when possible.

Be flexible. We all have our holiday traditions, but they may need to look different this year, Martin said. For example, if you can’t get a reservation at your favorite restaurant, consider getting takeout instead, then taking your food to a local park for a picnic, or eating it by the light of your Christmas tree.

Buy experiences. Experiences are “the gift that keeps giving,” Martin said. If you’re looking for a special gift, or a fun experience for yourself, consider buying tickets to a concert at a local music venue, or visiting a local art exhibit, followed by lunch or dinner at a local restaurant.

The News & Record contributed to this article.

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