By The Herald Editorial Board
If your holiday shopping preferences lean more to strolling than scrolling, but you’re still not a fan of packed malls or big-box stores, today’s your day; literally. It’s Small Business Saturday.
Started 13 years ago to encourage shopping at local and small businesses, Small Business Saturday organizes local businesses, chambers of commerce and downtown organizations nationwide, encouraging shoppers to patronize the small independent shops and businesses in their hometowns, spreading the wealth of the season to help support those businesses and local economies.
Patronizing local independent businesses keeps more of that money in the community; it can return up to three times as much money per dollar spent, compared to that spent at chain retailers, according to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. For every $100 spent at an independent retailer, $45 is returned to the community in support of other businesses, compared to $14 for the large chain stores. For online retail, the return to the local economy barely registers in cash registers: about a $1.
And for restaurants, $100 spent at an independent restaurant returns about $65 to the local economy, compared to $34 for chain restaurants.
Where that money is spent locally adds up quickly in the support and the health of local communities. Various studies compiled by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance point to a range of advantages for dollars spent in local businesses:
Counties with larger shares of small businesses outperform their peers in terms of income growth, faster employment growth and lower poverty rates.
Entrepreneurship supports job creation, and with more jobs and higher wages, a cycle of new business start-ups is encouraged.
Independent businesses provide more tax revenue at a lower public cost. One analysis found that compared to about $7 in property taxes earned per acre for the average big-box store, an acre of mixed-use independent businesses generated an average of $287 in tax revenue.
Local businesses cultivate cohesion and well-being in communities, building social capital and civic engagement, encouraging cooperation on shared concerns and challenges and an increase in local pride.
And at a time of concern over the environment and climate change, using local businesses can cut reliance on shipping and even vehicle use. A study of 3,200 households in King County found that residents of neighborhoods with more local businesses logged 26 percent fewer vehicle miles than those in areas with fewer local shopping options.
Don’t assume small business doesn’t have a large impact on the state’s economy. The U.S. Small Business Administration counts almost 645,000 small businesses in the state, employing more than 1.4 million of the state’s residents, 49 percent of all employees. And those small businesses have led a jump in business creation and employment since 2021, including 86 percent of new jobs.
But for those shopping for gifts, there’s a more practical reason for browsing a local shop, particularly those who struggle to find the right gift: getting ideas.
Even if you’ve decided on giving a book, for example, which book? Any recommendations?
“That’s one of our hallmarks,” said Michelle Bear, owner of the Edmonds Bookshop, which will soon celebrate its 52nd year as a downtown fixture. She and the shop’s employees have written quick reviews on tags placed below the books throughout the store.
“Every section has their recommendations, and each staff person has their own shelf with their recommendations,” Bear said.
Avid readers, themselves, she and employees are eager to talk about the books they’ve recently read. For Bear, it’s “North,” a novel by Brad Kessler, with three converging storylines involving a monk in Vermont, a Somali refugee and a U.S. veteran of the war in Afghanistan.
“It’s just a beautifully written story, and right up to the end you just hope everybody’s going to be OK,” she said.
The bookstore also offers its own version of a gift registry that shoppers can consult, a file where people can leave their “wish list” of books they’d like to receive.
Likewise, there’s plenty to spark ideas at Arlington’s Country Rose and Paint Bungalow and Home Decor.
Co-owner Donna Mains moved her business, County Rose, from the Seattle Premium Outlet Mall at Tulalip to Arlington several years ago and brought on partner Kathleen Shalan and the Paint Bungalow.
Business was good at the Tulalip mall, Mains said, but the required hours were demanding, so she made the move to Arlington, where she and Shalan can offer more time to help customers with questions, suggestions and even home decor workshops.
The two-shops-in-one offer clothing, jewelry, home decor, candles, vintage furniture and a range of craft and do-it-yourself materials, including Chalk Paint and books on home decorating.
For Small Business Saturday and the following Sunday, the shops are offering 20 percent off.
The encouragement to support local shops by Small Business Saturday is important and appreciated. Online retail has hurt small businesses, she admitted.
“Where people can click and have it there tomorrow, it’s hard to compete with that,” she said.
But the online shopping experience, while convenient, is sterile in terms of human engagement, as compared to shopping in person locally.
“It’s just a better feel, more one-on-one,” she said. “We’ll have women shop for an item of clothing and they’ll leave with an entire outfit.”
The personal interaction and general enjoyment from shopping locally, rather than online, perhaps had an early success story among bookstores. Even as predictions were made that Amazon and other chain retailers would put independent bookstores out of business, and would then transform reading itself with e-readers, bookstores have hung on, even through the pandemic.
“Once we were able to open back up, we have heard and continue to hear the support and people saying, ‘You know, we don’t want to see you go away. And so I will intentionally make my purchase here. Knowing I might spend a few more dollars, but yeah, those dollars keep you all here,’” Bear said “And, and that singly makes us just so grateful.”