Why Shop Small This Holiday Season?
I am an obsessive gift giver — I strive to find the perfect present for each person on my list, a project that typically involves hours of Internet research and a fair amount of time on Pinterest. But a few years ago, after I’d had two children and our gift list had expanded to include in-laws, nieces, co-workers and clients, I realized I couldn’t continue to research every purchase ad nauseum. I needed a more efficient sourcing process.
Unwilling to sacrifice on quality, I went out to my neighborhood shops in Park Slope, Brooklyn with the goal of buying all our gifts in a weekend. I talked to shop owners, asked for ideas, and found out how helpful asking for help can actually be. The products were unexpected, the owner recommendations insightful and my loved ones were especially surprised and delighted by the gifts I found. But I still loved shopping in my pajamas at 11pm, which led me to found Strolby, a site that enables people to buy from small shops online and access the extraordinary inventories their owners curate from all over the world.
I learned long ago how much more rewarding the small shop experience can be on a personal level. Through my work with Strolby, I’ve also gained an understanding of how small shops benefit both their communities and the larger economy. For a host of reasons, it just makes good sense to shop small for the holidays:
Picture a place you want to visit, or even live. Most of us imagine picturesque streets lined with bakeries, florists and beautiful shop windows. I know I never picture a Pottery Barn next to a Gap and Best Buy. It’s no coincidence that the most desirable communities in the country are also the ones with thriving small shop cultures. And the numbers back up what we can see for ourselves. Money spent at small shops stays in the community at significantly higher rates. One study found that in Salt Lake City, small retailers return 52 percent of their revenue to the local economy, compared to just 14 percent for the national chain retailers. The local economic impact of a small shop is 70 percent greater per square foot than a chain. Real estate prices are more stable in communities with walkable small shopping districts, a sign of local resilience independent of the national economy. Store owners invest their savings — and dreams — in local communities and make their neighborhoods better places to live and visit. Shopping small is a way to invest back.
Find Something Special
Shop owners go to near-impossible lengths to source beautiful and unusual products. Courtney Ebner of Norman & Jules, a toy store in Park Slope, spends her evenings on Instagram sourcing handmade toys from Spain and Japan and meets with local Brooklyn designers at the shop. Amber Abramson of Austin’s Busy-Being seeks out artisans creating one-of-a kind items like hand-stamped leather clutch purses, crocheted wall hangings and ceramic tea cups, often from makers and designers working in the area. Thanks to their passion for discovering those special gems, your odds of finding something truly unique are infinitely higher at a small shop.
A Stronger Economy
Investing in individuals making handmade products isn’t something a large corporation can afford to do—it needs to buy and sell inventory in mass quantities. Local stores, on the other hand, are the first stop for makers and designers looking to build a business. Small shops enable ambitious and talented makers to grow and scale. In this way, as Mike Cooksedge of SeeMyLocalMarket correctly put it, they are “hotbeds of innovation.” Makers are the smallest of small businesses, although together they represent a $50 billion market and are essential in keeping our economy diverse and evolving. Local shops are critical stepping stones for their growth.
Spend Better (Not More)
Shopping small is not necessarily more expensive. Every shop we work with on Strolby takes care to carry a range of items. The Wrong Store in Marfa, Texas, specializes in hand-carved wooden sculptures ranging from $100 to over $1000. To round out their offering, they began selling t-shirts with a play on a local tourist attraction. The “See Marfa Lights” shirt retails for $25.
When the items are more expensive, it is typically because the materials are high quality and they were built to last by highly skilled makers. Kempton and Co.’s Brooklyn-made handbags are practically indestructible. After carrying one bought for $485 for a year, one of our customers recently reported, “The quality of the bag is incredible. It still looks brand new despite a year of rough handling. Bags sold at similar prices at department stores aren’t nearly as well-constructed.”
Ultimately, shopping small means ending up with products that are more beautiful, last longer, support local communities and reinforce the strength of the economy at large. You get something special while your community becomes more robust and a better place to live. This holiday season, shopping small is a no-brainer.
Lara Fitch is the founder of Strolby, an e-commerce site for the best small shops in the world.