By Aubrey Ann Parker and Jordan B. Bates
It has been almost eight months since we wrote our first “letter from the editors,” in our special April issue that was dedicated entirely to COVID-19.
A lot has changed since then, but a lot remains the same, too.
We know more about the virus now than we did last spring, and we have found ways to work around the dangers and to keep our lives moving forward. Our economy opened back up throughout much of the summer, but now we are in the midst of another shut-down, with the potential for more shut-downs later this winter, as another “surge” has positive cases climbing. A vaccine is on the horizon, but access to the general public is still many months away.
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 reports in our cover story, many economic sectors in Benzie County have experienced unexpectedly high numbers this year, given how 2020 began—however, we definitely are 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.
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 past three years, at least 85 percent of our Christmas budget has been 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.
This year, our goal is 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?)
Why is this so important?
Did you know: if each of us in Benzie County annually spent $100 more on local businesses instead of chain stores, it would put $1.42 million a year into the local economy, and about $963,000 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.)
Fortunately, many consumers are going out of their way to support small, locally owned businesses during this holiday season. After all, if 2020 has taught us anything, it is that we are all in this together.
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.
Gift cards are another great way to support local businesses, especially restaurants and bars that are likely to be closed and/or restricted over the winter months, until a vaccine is distributed.
Other fun, outside-the-[big]-box gift ideas are to gift “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 the flower subscriptions that are profiled in this month’s Q&A with Charla Burgess of Sow She Grows Farm).
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 a 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
Feature 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.