The year that small businesses saved Christmas (Shop local cuts out shipping delays)

Wednesday, November 24, 2021
Shoppers meander near La Boutique, The Blessed Nest and Hillock’s. Patronizing local businesses allows them to enrich and support their communities in turn, according to business owner Justin DeGonia.
DAR/Samantha Tucker

Many businesses in Poplar Bluff joined in the citywide Christmas Open House in the first weekend of the month. Now they are gearing up for the Christmas shopping season, which can account for more than half of some businesses’ revenue.

This year’s holiday season is rapidly becoming defined by shipping delays and supply shortages. Small businesses are uniquely positioned to pick up the slack from big box stores and online distributors — and maybe even save Christmas.

Supply chain delays and rising prices are being felt everywhere, as are ongoing fears about COVID-19 and its destructive Delta variant.

“It’s been a challenge to get product in and make sure people feel safe to come out and to shop,” said Tad Long, owner of Archer Apothecary.

Transitioning to US-made products alleviates the problem of slow supply chains, while supporting other entrepreneurs and bringing high-quality goods to the area, area business owners believe.

Archer Apothecary has a display of all-natural soaps handmade in St. Louis, for example.

“Shopping small this year is a big thing, because we work with other small businesses that produce their own products and so we can get stuff quicker and have more availability for products during this supply chain breakdown,” he explained.

Keeping prices low enough to entice buyers is also a tightrope act. The Blessed Nest and Hillock’s — A Man’s Store have been forced to incrementally raise prices as suppliers manage their own expense hikes.

“We are being passed on container surcharges and shipping. With a lot of things that we bought at market in January, we were promised free shipping, and then all of a sudden they (the suppliers) can’t honor that anymore because their expenses went up,” said manager Deidra Willis.

Planning far in advance and staying flexible in the present are the best ways Justin DeGonia of New Leaf Flower & Plant Shop has found to manage the confusion. He took care early in the year to tell suppliers what decor and flowers his family’s businesses would need and listened to warnings about delivery hiccups.

“They were able to let us know these issues are going to happen, so we made sure that we were well stocked,” he said. “So, we haven’t really had a major issue as of yet.”

New Leaf, like many florists, is closed on Black Friday but has multiple promotions and sales leading up to Christmas.

Shoppers have relied more and more on the internet during the pandemic. Online is a safe, convenient way to shop, and allows businesses greater connection to customers.

The Blessed Nest and its sister stores let people order online through, and Willis has had a customer make a purchase over video chat. New Leaf also has a website, and Archer Apothecary uses Facebook.

But the web has its downsides, according to Lilli Hurst, whose family owns The Blessed Nest, Hillock’s and several other stores on Tucker Road.

“It is a way for us to showcase what we have ... but it also seems to be an avenue for people to forget about community,” said Hurst.

For sheer scope, it is hard to compete with the likes of Amazon. But a sense of community is what keeps small businesses going and allows them to enrich their local cultures.

“People learned last year that we’ve got to rely on each other. And that was one of the best things I think ever came out of COVID, is realizing that we’ve got to support our neighbors, and our neighbors are the people who own and operate businesses in this community,” Willis explained.

“When people need a donation for a silent auction or to go to the school or something like that, they’re not going to the big box stores, they’re coming to the local businesses,” DeGonia noted, meaning patrons of small businesses are in fact supporting their neighborhoods as well.

This year, the importance of shopping small is matched by its advantages. Items in stores do not have shipping delays, and boutiques and other stores carry unique gifts with a personal touch.

“Anybody can shop Amazon,” Willis said, “But not everybody gets out of their car and comes into a store and personally orders a gift for a loved family member.”

She added many shops have cheap, small items for $5 or less and every purchase helps.

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