As Holiday Shopping Starts, More Consumers Patronizing Indie Businesses

The group Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility launched a mobile app that urges shoppers to patronize locally-owned businesses

With the start of the holiday shopping season upon us, small Vermont businesses and artisans hope consumers remember them during their gift-buying trips.

According to a survey for the National Retail Federation, more than half of American consumers said their top destinations for holiday gift-buying will be department stores, discount stores or online.

However, at Friday’s opening day of the three-day Vermont Hand Crafters fine craft and art show at the Sheraton in South Burlington, many shoppers said they prefer buying from independent businesses or artists instead of hunting for deals at major retailers early in the morning on Black Friday.

“I’ll be in bed or volunteering at the humane society where I volunteer, because I won’t be shopping on Friday,” said Ellen Wilkins, a shopper at the craft show.

“Going out, getting into the car, driving to a big store and waiting in line to get a bargain doesn’t appeal to me,” added Emme Erdossy, another craft show shopper. “I’d much rather have personal contact with people and enjoy their products and handiwork.”

Marcia Hagwood, who owns and operates a handcrafted soap and body care products line called Chasworth Farm, said she is greatly helped by consumers who choose to spend their money in their local communities rather than online or at national retailers.

“Some of those same customers have helped me grow to the point I am now,” Hagwood told necn. “I’m a wholesaler, we have a storefront in St. Albans, we were able to move out of our farm and into a larger studio, we now employ people. So it’s this type of support that allows us to grow and allows money to stay here in Vermont.”

Jane Campbell, the executive director of Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, said cash often has a far-reaching impact if it’s spent in Vermont downtowns, farmers’ markets or at other independent businesses.

“If you spend a dollar at a company that’s owned locally, 45 cents of that dollar circulates back in the community,” Campbell said. “If you buy online, one percent may circulate in your community. And on the other end, if you buy from a company that’s owned out-of-state, about 15 cents of that dollar circulates in your community.”

Campbell’s organization has a new mobile app called Local First Vermont that, for $20, unlocks more 230 digital coupons to save cash at indie businesses. The digital coupons, which Campbell said are valued at more than $3,000, are good through Sept. 1, 2017.

VBSR still prints a hard copy version of its coupon book, Campbell noted. She said the paper coupons work for many consumers, but others may prefer to have the digital version in their pocket or handbag to avoid the risk of forgetting a coupon at home or in their car.

Campbell acknowledged not all products on people’s holiday gift lists will necessarily be readily available at an independent, Vermont-owned business.

“We understand that you can’t find everything in your local community,” Campbell said. “So, fine. All we’re asking people to do is look at their shopping list and think local first. And what you can’t get locally, go elsewhere.”

The National Retail Federation survey showed the average consumer expected to spend about $935 this holiday season.

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