CARBONDALE — It’s the time of year where the refrain of “shop small” is on many minds as small businesses compete with big box stores and online retailers, but this year, shopping small could be make or break for some independent retailers.
As COVID-19 numbers continue to rise, there have been mitigation measures put in place in Illinois to stop the spread of the virus. But the bans on big gatherings and the discouragement of leaving home without an absolute need has put immense pressure on local businesses. Retail businesses are limited to no more than 25% capacity.
Meghan Cole, executive director of Carbondale Main Street, said this has forced some business owners to rethink the ways they engage with customers, pushing some to tun to online ordering options for the first time.
“It pushed them into it, but they really needed that,” Cole said.
She said organizing big shopping events this year to celebrate the diversity of all Carbondale has to offer has been challenging. She said the first weekend in December, Carbondale Main Street will have maps highlighting local businesses downtown along with cookies for those walking downtown. Despite the tough year, local shops are still gearing up to offer fun and thoughtful items for even the hardest people to shop for.
Sarah Tezak has prepared general merchandise to tempt holiday shoppers at the Neighborhood Co-op in the Murdale Shopping Center. She said she has tried to stock ethically sourced craft items as well as items from local artisans that sell through the Co-op. She said the knit items from the Andes are particularly festive.
“Especially in a year like this, I think people really need fun,” she said.
In October, Meagan Majors opened Electric Larry’s in downtown Carbondale with her husband, Randall Majors. The duo sells all kinds of kitschy, vintage wares, from comic books to handmade buttons to vintage toys and even locally made items.
Meagan Majors asked for community support this holiday season — though she said interest in Electric Larry’s has been high since it opened.
“Spending money at a local business at the holidays is really going to make a difference to somebody,” she said. But in a year when sales have been tough at their best, this is especially important, she said.
“You’re making a difference in the business owner’s world, but you are also, like, keeping money in your community,” she said.
Nearing a year since recreational adult-use cannabis was legalized in the state, Jacob Buckman, owner of Carbondale’s Legal Smile head shop and wellness center, said there are gifts galore for all budgets and all levels of interest, from the casual toker to the dedicated smoker. Rolling papers, filter tips and small pipes would make great stocking stuffers, he said. But artisanal glass and hand-carved wood pipes are there for bigger gifts, too.
If finding the right gift for someone is still hard, there are still yet more options.
“I don’t know when somebody doesn’t want a gift card,” Cole said.
She added that if anyone is concerned about going into a store to shop, they should call the business. Cole said she is sure local business owners would be happy to accommodate, especially if it means shoppers turn their eyes from Amazon.
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