By Peggy Werner & Janine Pumilia
Every holiday season we make the case for doing at least some of our shopping and dining at locally owned businesses. Shopping local means more of your money re-circulates here at home rather than zipping off to out-of-state Big Box or Amazon headquarters.
This year, however, is different. Shopping local is not only smart, it’s also necessary if we want to maintain a vibrant local business community.
More than 100,000 small businesses closed after COVID-19 steamrolled the U.S. in its first wave. Restaurants and retail shops were hardest hit.
“But it’s not safe to go out and shop local!” you might say. For some people, this is true. But there are solutions. Many shops accept online or phone orders; most allow curbside pickups; some do home delivery. Shops are requiring staff and customers to wear masks and practice social distancing. They clean high-touch areas often and place hand sanitizer throughout their stores. Some shops even offer after-hours appointments, such as Shine, 6730 Broadcast Pkwy.
“We want to help eliminate stress by giving our customers choices,” says Shine co-owner Elizabeth Burkholder. She informs customers about new inventory through her Facebook pages and emails promotions. Shine doesn’t offer online shopping, but does do phone orders and curbside pickup.
Some stores have replaced crowded one-day deal events with ongoing discount days all season long. Gensler Gardens, 102 Orth Road, Loves Park, is running specials through the end of the year including 20 percent off fresh evergreens and 25 percent off all holiday décor, says Kristin Hauser, manager.
“It’s easy to social distance in our store, considering it size,” she says.
Custom orders can be placed by phone and picked up curbside. Delivery is available within an 8-mile radius.
The pandemic has changed other things, too.
“More people have become pet owners because more people are spending more time at home,” observes Anita Luckey, owner of Cherry Valley Feed & Supplies, 1595 S. Bell School Road. “There’s definitely a trend in people wanting to be good pet parents.”
About 75 percent of her sales involve high-quality cat and dog foods and supplies, including shampoo, supplements, kennels, collars, leashes and CBD products for pain and nerve issues. Her store accepts phone orders and curbside pickups and will deliver for a fee.
“We’re doing our best to help customers get through the season safely,” Luckey says.
Feathered friends are getting more attention, too, says Joel Neylon, manager of Wild Birds Unlimited, 4902 Hononegah Road, Roscoe.
More people are taking new interest in the birds outside their windows, says Neylon. Bird books, feeders, seed, birdbaths, binoculars and other birding aids are popular gifts. You can view products on the franchise website, wbu.com, phone in your order to Neylon and pick it up curbside.
Rather than running crowded one-day sales, Neylon is extending sales periods, such as “20% off everything” Dec. 11-13.
If you’re longing to do some in-person shopping, Benson Stone Co., 1100 11th St., naturally lends itself to social distancing, since the store is a city block large.
This is the store’s 90th anniversary, so sales are running through Dec.19. Furniture is up to 40 percent off and all flooring is 40 percent off. The store’s 12-foot Christmas tree is decorated with a rustic theme this year and the Christmas gift shop is offering a 50 percent discount. The store also sells clothing, jewelry, wraps, gloves and other accessories.
Benson’s accepts phone orders, does home delivery and curbside pickup, offers online shopping for selected items and can schedule private shopping.
Co-owner Kim Benson, a decorator and merchandise buyer, uses social media to keep customers informed.
“We’re a little different from most retail stores, with our fireplaces going, our café, and just all the looks, colors and traditions we offer,” says Benson. “It’s a cozy, home-like place to shop.”
Reminders to wash our hands are everywhere, and the Oregon Soap Shoppe, 91C Daysville Road, Oregon, Ill., is happy to help. Owner Lynnel Camling started her soap business 17 years ago using custom recipes and natural ingredients like beeswax, olive oil, coconut oil and shea butter.
The store accepts orders by phone or online at oregonsoapshoppe.com, and mail-in requests. The couple delivers orders and offers curbside pickup.
Don’t overlook the option of giving a fun experience. A membership to Klehm Arboretum or Burpee Museum, for example, is enjoyed all year long. Discovery Center offers gift passes and memberships plus many toys. Although museums are closed right now, “Just give us a call to arrange a visit if you want to shop our store,” says Mike Rathbun, associate director at Discovery Center.
Anderson Japanese Gardens also sells gift memberships and maintains an online store, as does Midway Village Museum.
It’s not difficult to find meaningful gifts that will strengthen our community as we shop – even during a pandemic. Happy local shopping! ❚