By Sarah Wall
It’s no coincidence that Small Business Saturday anchors one of the busiest shopping weekends of the year. Falling between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Small Business Saturday aims not to only buoy sales at local shops that might otherwise go to big-box retailers, though that’s an important feature. Small Business Saturday also reminds Americans of the importance of small businesses to every neighborhood, town, and community in the country.
This year, they’re more crucial than ever. While chain stores might be beset with supply chain shortages, local businesses will likely have an easier time stocking their shelves with everything customers need, from stocking-stuffers to Christmas hams. One local business based in Arizona, called Pop-Cycle, experienced the benefit of their niche market first-hand. When some shoppers ran into shortages at chain stores on Black Friday, they stopped by Pop-Cycle to check out their inventory, which features artwork from over 100 local artists. Owner Libby Tobey was delighted. “You’re getting a one-of-a-kind, unique gift, from all different price points and all different makers,” she said. “It just means so much more to the Tucson community when you’re shopping local.”
Libby is right: as potential customers in the 2021 holiday season, we are more crucial to small businesses than ever before because the difficulties of the COVID-19 pandemic weighed heavily on them. One store owner in New York City, Eric Penn, recalled, “We were closed six months, and even when we opened in the fall of 2020, business was really at 50%.” Compare that to their behemoth competitors: Walmart, for instance, made $35 billion more in revenue in 2020 than in 2019, and Amazon’s value has increased 94% in the nearly two years since the pandemic began.
That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with shopping at one of these large retailers. But it’s small businesses that power America’s economic engine. According to the U.S. Small Business Association, there are 30 million small businesses across the country, employing nearly 48% of the workforce in industries as diverse as health care, retail, engineering, and beauty supplies. Even though they employ less than half the country’s workforce, small businesses have been responsible for nearly two-thirds of U.S. job creation over the last 20 years. That means economically speaking; small businesses punch above their weight, likely because they have the energy, drive, and nimbleness that many large companies lost as they grew.
In addition to these important economic contributions, though, the value that small businesses provide to their communities – the sense that a purchase we make actually means something to someone else – can’t be quantified so easily. As one shopper in Queens in northern New York City put it, “I think it’s way better to go small. The camaraderie, the people you get to know inside these stores. You get to really become family with small businesses.”
Plus, since no one knows the value of small businesses like their owners do, the money they earn often goes back to other shops in town. One pawn shop manager, Kate Housel, in Keyser, West Virginia, said, “We buy from local people, which helps them out, and we sell to local people to help them out.” Similarly, the charity for neighbors in need is an important part of the holiday season for many small business owners, including Stacy Wolford, another store owner in downtown Keyser. “We serve our community and then put money back into our community,” she said. For instance, after a housefire in town, she gave the family warm blankets, hats, clothing, and everything else they needed in their recovery.
Shopping at small businesses is a win-win. It benefits customers, who will find local and artisan gifts more easily than at retailers impacted by supply chain issues. It will benefit shop owners, who need our support to continue thriving post-pandemic. But a community is more than the sum of its parts and shopping small knits us together in ways we all need this holiday season. Consider marking a few things off your Christmas list at small and local businesses this December. Your impact will be far more greatly felt by the owners, the employees, and your entire community.
Sarah Wall is a contributing writer for Smart Women Smart Money Magazine. For questions or comments, email firstname.lastname@example.org.