Like so many other events this year, Small Business Saturday is going virtual.
With record numbers of COVID-19 cases and new restrictions in place, local business owners know that people are doing their holiday shopping differently, so they’re helping by offering new ways to engage online or through curbside service.
They’re asking people to help them in return by spending more of their dollars close to home.
The pandemic has been especially hard on small business owners. Most have had to change their business models amid an uncertain economic environment.
“It’s hard to find stability, and many, if they can’t open, they can’t do business,” said Vania Word, community engagement manager for Morning Light, an entrepreneurship program designed to help local small businesses improve operations.
As the biggest shopping season of the year approaches, 46% of small business owners are counting on above-average holiday sales to stay in business in 2021, according to an impact study conducted on behalf of American Express, the company that created Small Business Saturday in 2010.
“It’s so important for communities to wrap their arms around small businesses and to go the extra mile to go to their website and make a transaction,” Word said. “We’re all together trying to make our community great.”
Battle Creek virtual market
Last year, Morning Light hosted its inaugural “Shop Small Downtown” event for Small Business Saturday in Battle Creek. Word said this year, the organization planned a socially distanced pop-up market, but rising COVID-19 numbers and new guidelines from health officials forced them to cancel.
Traffic flows through downtown on the corner of Michigan Ave. and Capital Ave. on Friday, Dec. 13, 2019 in Battle Creek, Mich. Michigan Avenue reopened that morning for the first time since November 2018. (Photo: Alyssa Keown | The Battle Creek Enquirer)
Yet, just like business owners have done all year, Morning Light found a way to innovate and now plans a virtual market place.
“We were gung-ho about creating an opportunity for people to interact safely with small businesses and support them on Shop Small Saturday,” she said. “We’re super excited about how we’re going to spend the day virtually.”
The event will be live-streamed on the Morning Light Facebook page from noon to 6 p.m. on Nov. 28. It will feature conversations with local business owners and link customers to their social media information and e-commerce sites.
Details of the participating businesses are being finalized, but Morning Light entrepreneurs and other prominent Battle Creek businesses will be featured.
Word said they’re hoping that the community will turn out to support small businesses this year as much as they did last year, and is challenging residents to make at least one transaction at a local business on Nov. 28.
“We know that we can’t do this in person, but let’s try to make it as connective and genuine as possible,” she said. “Our community is one unit… Us sticking together is the key to success during times like this.”
Buying gift cards from local restaurants and other businesses in the area is a great way to support the local economy this holiday season, according to Kara Beer, president of the Battle Creek Area Chamber of Commerce.
“When thinking about unconventional gift giving this year, why not think about gifting items like dry-cleaning gift certificates, purchase oil changes for family members, or buy dinner for a neighbor from a local restaurant and have it delivered,” Beer said in an email. “Think about Shop Small as a way to spend more in supporting our local businesses, friends and entrepreneurs when they need it the most.”
Handmap Brewing opened downtown in June, and co-owner Jennifer Brown said local support has been crucial.
“We’ve had great support from the community,” she said.
The brewing company has new merchandise available in time for the holidays, including winter hats, sweatshirts and T-shirts. They also have gift cards, which Brown said can make for great gifts that support the business now while allowing people to use them later.
Handmap Brewing has more than beer. The company also sells hats, sweaters and shirts that make great holiday gifts. (Photo: Alyssa Keown | The Battle Creek Enquirer)
Marshall adapts downtown holiday shopping traditions
Downtown Marshall is also coming up with innovative ways for people to support local business owners this holiday season by expanding its annual Spend Local event.
In its fourth year, the holiday shopping promotion allows people to enter a prize raffle for every $50 they spend at a Marshall business. This year, the Choose Marshall Facebook page is also promoting items from local stores to help people shop virtually.
“This year, more than ever, it’s very important to support our local businesses,” said Amy Crisp, director of marketing and communications for Choose Marshall. “These are the people that donate their time, their money, raised their children in our communities.”
Marshall’s annual “Retail Open House,” which is traditionally held the Friday after Marshall’s Christmas parade, will be different this year, too. Instead of lasting only a few hours, the promotion will be expanded to a few days to allow people to shop safely.
Crisp encouraged people to check with local retailers to see if they have an item they’re interested in before buying it elsewhere. Many times, she said, business owners are happy to work to accommodate customers.
During the next month, Chose Marshall and local retailers are planning to create a winter market along West Michigan Avenue in downtown Marshall so people can be outdoors and have more space for social distancing while they shop.
“Keeping it local is what needs to happen this year.” Crisp said. “It is something that in order to keep our downtown full, and our economy flourishing everybody needs to just be aware and conscious of this year.”
Contact Elena Durnbaugh at (269) 243-5938 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @ElenaDurnbaugh.
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