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Keeping it Local

Supporting small businesses has an impact that extends beyond First Avenue

By Abigail Thorpe

We’ve all been there—we think of an item we need or want, whether it’s toilet paper, a book or the latest home décor, and off we go to Amazon. It’s easy. We don’t have to leave our home, and these days it typically arrives within 48 hours, sometimes less. But with so many options at our fingertips, shopping local has never been more important. Sometimes a little extra time can go a long way to not only supporting a small business but benefiting your community and finding something a bit more unique than what a big box store or online marketplace has to offer.

After a difficult season with pandemic restrictions and dropping revenue, a busy summer was a boon for businesses downtown. On most any day of the week, our streets, sidewalks and shops were filled with tourists eager to grab a breath of fresh air and some unique time away here in Sandpoint. But as the tourist throngs start to fade, our small businesses depend on locals more than ever to keep them alive, thriving, and keeping our community the beautiful place we call home.

As the volume of business changes with the season, shops want to be able to keep their doors open and their staff employed, explains Deanna Harris of Sharon’s Hallmark on First Avenue.

The lifeblood of our community.

While the busy holiday season is just ahead and always proves a big season for downtown small businesses, many of those same businesses will face a slow in business as the winter continues into spring, and they rely on business now and the continued support of locals and visitors to continue successfully operating in our community.

Indeed, small businesses are the lifeblood of our community, much more than we even realize. Restaurants, shops, salons, boutiques and more do much more than support the local business owners and downtown; they create ripple effects that extend far beyond the individual and even our business center.

“Because the downtown retailers and restaurants are a part of the community, they are the ones who are volunteering for events and giving donations to the kids' fundraisers and different charities, and you’re not going to get that when you shop online,” says Harris.

And when it comes to the Sandpoint we enjoy every season, it simply wouldn’t be the same without a healthy small business economy that provides local options and supports the economy. Small businesses account for 65.1 percent of net new jobs created since 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Business Employment Dynamics, and for every $100 spent at small businesses, $48 stays in the community, compared to just $14 of every $100 spent at box stores or national retailers, reports the Small Business Administration.

So, when we take the time to choose local businesses instead of heading online or to Target, we’re not only allowing our local entrepreneurs to thrive, we’re supporting our entire community and continuing the eclectic downtown that keeps Sandpoint alive. Beyond that, it’s simply more fun, and you’ll find options you might not know exist.

It’s simply better.

New businesses are popping up in town all of the time, and often you can find more unique options, competitive pricing and more selections than you will online. And don’t discount the personal aspect. Shopping local offers some extras you’ll never find on Amazon or in a box store.

More local support means more downtown businesses, and you know what that means ... more options. “You have a lot of variety; it creates a much better atmosphere the more businesses that are down here,” explains Harris. Along with more selection and unique one-of-a-kind options, you’ll be shopping from someone face-to-face, who gets to know you. “You get more personalized service,” she adds. “A lot of these people we’ve known for years, you know customers on a first-name basis, you know the things they like.”

You can’t put a price on personalized service and a friendly hello, no matter how easy it is to push that “Add to Cart” button. Speaking of price, there’s a lot more personal bonuses to shopping local than you may know. Many shops offer complimentary wrapping or other services, as well as fun events to thank their customers. And if you really want to shop from home, some even have online stores you can shop just as easily (if not more so) than Amazon.

So how can we “go local”?

Shopping local takes more thought, more intentionality and sometimes a little more time and effort, but it’s absolutely worth it. And the good news is, people are starting to catch on. According to a November 2020 survey by Union Bank, 72 percent of Americans thought it was more important to shop small businesses than to get a better deal. So how can we better support our small businesses?

Think before you shop. Next time you need something, whether it’s a gift or household item, stop to think about where you can source it locally first. Sometimes all it takes is retraining our mind to hit our own downtown sidewalks before we drive to the box store or head online. You may even find a new business you had no idea existed.

Gift local. A local gift is a lot more special than something someone could find anywhere, and it also provides a fun excuse for a shopping excursion. But you don’t have to have a birthday or wedding approaching to shop. Stock up on some gift cards from local businesses and give them out when you need a gift, thank you, or simply want to let someone know you’re thinking of them. It’s a simple and easy way to support local businesses and gives others the opportunity to explore our local businesses and restaurants for themselves.

Use your digital acumen. You’re adept at online shopping and social media, so how about taking those skills local? Write a good review if you visit a shop you like. It will take you minutes but goes a long way in helping support local businesses. Bought something you love or enjoyed a good meal or local service? Post it on social media and tag the business. It’s the perfect way to spread the love, show your support and bring the focus local.

Participate. How often do we talk about how much we love a local business, but then fail to participate in any of their events? If a spot is hosting a special shopping night, an event to support charity, a new release party or a fun-filled food, dance or music night, go. Support can go beyond spending money to simply spending a bit of your time.

Spread the love. You’ve found your favorite restaurant in town, or that boutique that always has something you can’t live without. That’s fantastic! But don’t forget to spread the love to other local businesses. You don’t have to give up your support of one; just make an effort to visit somewhere else occasionally. You might just find somewhere you love just as much.

Speaking of your favorite local businesses ... don’t keep them a secret! Refer your friends and family to the places you love to go, the stores you enjoy doing business with, and the people who offer great services. They’ll thank you, and in return you’ll ensure that the business you love so much continues to stay successful.

There are many ways you can support local businesses, but it all starts with making the time and effort to shop a little differently. The end result? You’ll support our economy and keep our businesses thriving, and in return you’ll receive special service, great experiences and unique finds. So, make a point to support a local business in one way each week. They’ll thank you.

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