Heartbeat and backbone
Shopping local goes beyond the price tag
Local shops, stores and restaurants are what make small towns and communities special. The call to shop local is not just a fun marketing campaign, but it asks consumers to look beyond the act of shopping and on towards the people and communities behind the stores.
This year, Small Business Saturday falls on Nov. 28. Founded by American Express in 2010 and cosponsored by the Small Business Administration (SBA) since 2011, the event is moving away from being focused on one, jam-packed shopping day in 2020. To account for the growing coronavirus cases nationwide, the pivot is to promoting local shopping through the holiday season. An American Express report from 2019 estimated that 95% of consumers who shopped small on Small Business Saturday wanted to do so consistently.
“There’s a state saying that really sums it up—small business is the heartbeat of the community and unfortunately it’s also the backbone of the economy,” Kim Jorczyk with the Virginia City Chamber of Commerce said. Without local businesses, there are no local towns.
“It has a tremendous effect when you keep your own dollars at home,” Marshall Bettendorf, executive director of the Ennis Chamber of Commerce, said. Money spent locally circulates through the community and the impact stays at the local level. Right now, the easiest way to lose community dollars is by shopping online, Bettendorf said.
Dollars spent in town help fund road updates, snowplow removal and lighting renovations, Jorczyk said, among other things. The trickledown effect of spending money locally helps fund these maintenance aspects and also allows local businesses to give back to their communities.
Local businesses donate to school fundraisers, crisis relief projects and potlucks. Employees of local businesses may be on boards, involved in nonprofit organizations or conservation efforts and have children in the school districts. They have vested interests in the health and vitality of the community.
Chris Gentry, owner of Madison Foods in Ennis, said she has not said no to a request in 18 years. Being an independent retailer, Gentry does not always have the buying power to compete with Costco or Walmart prices, something Therese Hutchinson, owner of Main Street Market in Twin Bridges, can relate to. Gentry does a lot to try and counter potentially higher prices, like grocery grabs and case costs.
And she practices what she preaches.
Even if she has to wait to get something ordered from Ennis True Value Hardware instead of driving to Home Depot in Bozeman, she will choose that route as, “I know that money stays here,” Gentry said. Bettendorf has made changes to the Ennis Chamber in this way as well, doing more Chamber-specific shopping locally. Back in the spring, he had his business cards made by Copy That! Hutchinson is able to meet most of her needs through products offered at the Main Street Market.
It may be more expensive to do so, but Jorczyk said shoppers have to look beyond the price tag. How is a Christmas gift going to support the town you live in? One reason people move to small communities is for the vibrancy and relevancy of the community, which is embodied in small shops. If all the shops close down, then those traits go out the window.
“I don’t think we’ve seen the hard times yet,” Gentry said about the coronavirus’s impact on small businesses.
“In a normal year it’s important to shop local, but this year’s even more important because these small business owners and local businesses, they’re fighting for survival at this point,” Isaac Ingram, current president of the Ruby Valley Chamber of Commerce, said. Hutchinson encourages people to shop at places they might not think of. She brought up the Mad Hatter in Twin Bridges that has more than just hats. The gift shop at the Main Street Market does well, too, she said.
“I’ve gotten some pretty good gifts at our local thrift stores,” Janet Marsh, owner of the Shovel and Spoon in Sheridan, said and mentioned that gift cards are still a good way to support local.
“We’re all affected by what’s going on in others’ businesses,” Gentry said. Any business that closes forces residents to search elsewhere for the same service and take their dollars with them.
Local businesses in many cases are offering a service or filling a hole, and not doing it just for their own livelihood, Ingram said. “They’re here for us and right now it’s important for us to be there for them,” he said.
Hutchinson mentioned it is heartbreaking to watch a local business close. In a way, those closures are like losing a little piece of a community.
“If we don’t support our small businesses, it could be the end of the small town as we know it,” Jorczyk said.