Make a difference this holiday season
By Aubrey Ann Parker and Jordan B. Bates
We first published a version of this “letter from the editor” in our December/Holiday issue in 2020. Many of you probably read it then. But we feel like a lot of it bears repeating.
Sure, a lot has changed in a year; however, a lot remains the same, too.
We know more about the virus now than we did a year ago, we have vaccines available for anyone ages five and up, and we have found ways to work around the dangers of COVID-19 and to keep our lives moving forward. Our economy opened back up, and—though we are not in the midst of a government-mandated shut-down—Michigan’s hospitalization numbers are currently the highest per capita of any state and our new case numbers exceed where they were last December.
We are definitely in the midst of another “surge” of positive cases, and it is hard for anyone to predict how long cases will climb. Moreover, there are supply-chain issues and staffing shortages.
Without a doubt, this is an unprecedented time in our history. As a world, as a nation, and most definitely in our own little northwest corner of the Mitten State. The last time that a pandemic hit our area hard was the Spanish flu in January 1919.
But as Keith Schneider reported in our cover story last December, many economic sectors in Benzie County experienced unexpectedly high numbers last year, given how 2020 began—however, we are still not out of the woods yet. As was predicted, the virus seems to be seasonal, with more cases appearing as we all head inside for winter once again.
With that in mind, it is especially important this holiday season to buy goods and services from local businesses.
In our Frankfort household, we try our best to do that every year anyway. For the holiday seasons of 2017-2019, at least 85 percent of our Christmas budget was devoted to local businesses: perennial favorites include books from The Bookstore in downtown Frankfort (which includes having them order books that we want which they might not already have in stock, rather than using Amazon); candles and soaps from Beedazzled in Benzonia; skincare products from Crystal Spa in Thompsonville; mead and merchandise from St. Ambrose Cellars; specialty spirits from Iron Fish Distillery; sweet treats from Kilwins; gift cards to a plethora of favorite restaurants; and other random stocking-stuffer items from the hardware store, Anet & Ollies, and others; as well as beautiful handmade items from so many local artists and artisans over the years.
Last year, our goal was to have the entirety of our Christmas budget be spent locally, with the exception of a few monthly magazine subscriptions that we order every year. (Everyone needs a stack of National Geographics lying around on coffee tables, right?) We met that goal, and we plan to do it again this year.
Why is this so important?
Did you know: if each of us in Benzie County spent $100 a year more on local businesses instead of chain stores, it would put $1.44 million a year into the local economy, and about $977,000 would recirculate locally? Not to mention how many jobs this could create. (These stats are based on U.S. Census estimates of adult residents in Benzie County and studies by the American Independent Business Alliance that state $68 of every $100 spent locally recirculates; comparatively, only $43 from the chain store stays in the community.)
Last year, it seemed like many consumers were going out of their way to support small, locally owned businesses during the holiday season. After all, if 2020 taught us anything, it was that we were all in this together.
However, we, the editors, have not necessarily noticed the same trends on our social media platforms as we were noticing last year. It seems like fewer of our friends are posting about the importance of supporting local businesses, and it seems like more people are posting about the aforementioned shipping delays or about the best Black Friday deals.
So, this is our not-so-subtle reminder that local businesses, artists, and artisans need your help just as much this year—if not more—than they did last year.
We recently read something interesting on this topic. @rustbeltlove on Instagram says:
“Why do products from small businesses cost so much more for the same thing.” The myth is: “These products are the same.” A candle from a big box store that is originally marked as $10.95 and is on sale for $5 compared to a $20 candle from a small business. The habit is: Big-box stores have shaped the idea that we should never have to pay full price for products we buy. This leads to the idea that small businesses are charging more for the same products. But the reality is that it’s not apples to apples. The $5 candle is produced in a facility with cheap ingredients and is focused on high quantity output; it is marked up 500 percent from the wholesale price, with the intent to heavily discount to give the illusion of “savings.” Whereas, the $20 candle is handmade one at a time with high-quality ingredients by someone in your community; it is marked down as low as possible already, which is why most small businesses can’t run sales. So, where does the money go? For the $5 candle, the money goes to inflated CEO salaries, underpaid workers overseas, and large corporations that use loopholes to pay less in taxes. For the $20 candle, the money goes to your neighbors and their families who support other small businesses and pay local taxes that support schools and infrastructure. So why should you support the local business? Shopping local doesn’t mean you have to spend more; you can spend the same amount that you were planning to, just buy fewer items. Share with your loved ones the story behind the item you got locally and how this purchase supported the community. You can feel good that you have invested in creativity and entrepreneurship, two things that the American economy was founded upon. Nurturing local business ensures a strong community. It is better for the environment—by purchasing what you need locally, you can reduce processing and packaging, and the generation of transportation waste. We vote for the world we want with the way that we spend our money. If we only give our dollars to the big-box stores, soon there will only be big-box stores to choose from. Your community needs you right now.
We don’t feel like we could have said it any better than that, so we felt like it was worth sharing in its entirety.
Just to really hit this idea home, local businesses are the backbone of a community, with most donating to local charities and events, offering financial support for fundraisers, sponsoring little league teams. The local shop-keeps—already eeking out livings from a seasonal (or semi-seasonal) economy—find creative ways to offer deals and extend hours beyond what is sometimes practical. Small businesses are often more inclined to provide quality service, because their long-term success depends upon repeat customers. Often these business owners know every repeat customer by name, as well as their orders.
In an effort to continue accommodating patrons, small businesses are finding ways to adapt. Though online shopping has traditionally been comprised mostly of big-box retailers, many small businesses have increased their internet presence. Additionally, many are offering curbside pick-up and even delivery options still during the pandemic.
Gift cards are another great way to support local businesses, especially restaurants and bars that are likely to be closed and/or restricted by staffing issues over the winter months.
Other fun, outside-the-[big]-box gift ideas are to give “experiences” not “things”: for instance, online classes, memberships (to a local brewery, the Oliver Art Center, or COGNiTiON Science & Discovery Center, for example), or subscriptions (like a CSA food share from a local farmer).
Or what about donating to a charity, foundation, or nonprofit whose mission aligns with the values of your loved one? Many who reject the consumerism of this season would most likely still get behind the idea of supporting a local organization in this way, in their name.
Even if you cannot find it in your budget to spend $100 (or more) locally this holiday season, you can still help local businesses: share their post on social media; like their post; tag a friend; comment something nice; comment an emoji; post a pic (especially if you do purchase something); leave a review. By sharing your experience through social media or via good ole-fashioned word of mouth, you may compel your friends and neighbors to follow your lead.
Together, we can help our local economy to recover during another particularly difficult year.
We hope that you and your loved ones are happy and healthy. It is a challenging time, but we can get through this together.
Sending you love and light,
Aubrey Ann Parker and Jordan B. Bates
Featured Photo Caption: Santa, Baby. (Right to left.) Santa knows the importance of teaching young children how to count, and using toys that count can make the lesson fun. As the Babes in Toyland get older, the numerical lesson can switch to a financial one, in which the importance of shopping local can be stressed. Photo by Aubrey Ann Parker.