The Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce, the Madison Chamber of Commerce, the South Huntsville Main Business Association, Downtown Huntsville Inc., the North Huntsville Business Association, and the cities of Huntsville and Madison have launched a Shop Small, Save Local campaign to support Madison County retailers.
After a long, challenging year of pandemic and shutdowns, the traditional Christmas shopping experience looks a lot different this year than it has in the past, but local small businesses are doing what small businesses do best – they have used a lot of creativity in turning COVID problems into new opportunities, while developing practical solutions like required masks, social distancing, easily accessible sanitizing stations and a whole lot of Plexiglas to improve their business models – perhaps permanently.
Ask yourself – will anyone really miss the traditional mad dash at midnight to lay claim to crowded “Black Friday” doorbusters? Will you miss riding people’s heels to take their parking spot, or wrestling your neighbor out of the last Star Wars Child Animatronic Edition of Yoda?
According to Pammie Jimmar, vice president, Small Business & Events for the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber, local retailers large and small started in October preparing for a longer Christmas shopping experience to help local retailers make up some of what they have lost during the pandemic.
“We have to save our local businesses and that is why the Chamber decided to make a strong statement about it,” said Jimmar. “Traditionally, we celebrate Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday, but after what our local businesses have been through this year, we felt it was important to support them all the time, all year long, across the board, and not just on one day or two.”
And it is not just an override of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Before you wear the lettering off Amazon’s “Submit” button online, Shop Small (Business), Save Local asks residents to take a pause and look at the benefits to shopping local small businesses, and spending big while you are at it!
“Everything you can find online, you can also find locally,” said Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle. “You can hold it in your hand, try it on, and save the wait for it to arrive. You can save the expense of shipping or returns, printing labels, buying postage, and having to go to the post office. It is also efficient since the receiver can easily exchange it for a different color or a different size.
“In terms of whether it is safe, grocery stores, pharmacies and big-ticket stores have found ways to safely adjust to the pandemic and North Alabamians have learned to mask, sanitize, and separate. So, there is no reason why shopping cannot be an even better experience this year.”
For years, “Black Friday”, and more recently, “Cyber Monday” have kicked off the retail Christmas shopping season. Even in normal times, those three days following Thanksgiving mark the first time all year that retailers begin to turn a profit – that is, operate “in the black”, after operating at break-even or at a loss – “in the red” – all year prior.
In 2020, to say retailers have operated in the red is a colossal understatement. The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged retailers in a way they have never had to face before.
“This is definitely an unusual year for shopping,” said Sameer Singhal, president/CEO of CFD Research Corp. and vice chair of Small Business and Events at the Chamber. “The pandemic makes everything look a little bit different and we have a new normal, but it doesn’t stop us from doing what’s the right thing.
“It is all about our small business owners.”
David Christopherson of Roosevelt and Co., a men’s clothing and supply store in Huntsville, said he wants customers to know how conscientious they are in providing a safe and healthy environment where customers can come in and shop.
“Our team is just three people,” said Christopherson. “So, if one of our employees got COVID, we will be losing a part of our team, so I think all small businesses are very conscious about making masking, sanitizing and distancing a priority.
“We extended our Small Business Saturday deals for the entire week so people won’t feel rushed and they can get down here when they can and feel safe and comfortable in the store. For those who prefer not to come in, we offer more merchandise on our website than usual and provide curbside pick-up and delivery to make it easy for those people.”
Singhal said many small businesses are handling customers the same way.
“In the early days of the pandemic, I called Wild Birds Unlimited on Whitesburg Drive and bought bird seed and a feeder on the phone,” he said. “The manager met me in the parking lot and put it in the trunk of my car.
“Toy Place in Five Points actually did a Facetime walk-through her store, we picked out a gift, she gift-wrapped it, and we picked it up outside the store without ever getting out of the car.”
“It is just a different year,” said Madison Mayor Paul Finley. “I think part of what we get to do is be innovative in finding purposeful ways to support our community. Ninety percent of U.S. businesses are categorized as small or medium sized. With this pandemic, about one-third of those businesses right now are either operating on a very basic level or not operating at all.
“I have five boys to shop for and I’m going to be looking forward to shopping locally to make prosperity happen for every store in our community. Let’s make this a really successful, although different, season.”
“The pandemic has impacted us in a lot of ways, but the reality is, you can find more interesting, more unique goods when you shop with our local shops,” said Chad Emerson, president and CEO of Downtown Huntsville Inc. “Gifts you can’t find anywhere else, a lot of exclusive lines in clothing, candles and other gifts.
“I want to stress that shopping local isn’t just an altruistic thing to do. It’s different, but one thing that is not different is you can buy everything you need for friends and family locally. You can find interesting and unique gifts whether it is downtown, South Huntsville, North Huntsville or the great Madison community and throughout the County. And remember that a lot of the local boutiques have online stores on their websites where you can request curbside pickup.”
Merrill Wright, interim director of the Madison Chamber of Commerce, said shopping local is easy and convenient because you can make a quick stop at a store on your way home from work or school or during a lunch break, to pick up gifts for family and friends.
“We see our small business owners quite often,” Wright said. “We’ve been communicating with them a lot since COVID, and we see the stress they have been under this year. One thing I can say from talking and meeting with them almost daily is, they have a wonderfully positive outlook. They continue to wake up and go to their business in the morning and start every day fresh. And it is not just during the holiday season, it is during the rest of the year as well.
“They need our support whether it is a birthday present or a universal gift, so shop small, local business whenever you can.”
“It is the American dream to become an entrepreneur so our business owners are proud of all the new products and services starting up in the area,” said Hardin. “We are having problems due to COVID just like everyone else in Madison County. Small business establishments are supporting each other in getting past the situation, but we are excited and ready to support them because remember, shopping brings in tourism as well and we all need that.”
Bekah Schmidt, executive director of the South Huntsville Main Business Association, said, “This holiday season it is more important than ever to support local businesses. We have great gift guides and if you are buying for the kids, Rocket City Moms website is a valuable tool for ideas.”
The Huntsville-Madison County Chamber launched a website this past spring aimed at helping all types of small business retailers, including restaurants. GetYourGiftOn.org is the perfect solution if you are not comfortable shopping in person. It features many local Madison County retail stores and restaurants where customers can purchase gift cards directly on the site. They can be emailed to you or a recipient from the comfort of home. Even though the recipient may not use the gift card until later, the purchase provides financial support to the business owner immediately.
“It is a great way to thank someone and it is free to all local businesses, whether you are a member of the Chamber or not,” said Singhal. “The site is free for businesses to set up a profile and gift cards. In fact, if your company does not currently offer gift cards, you can set them up right there on the site and it only takes about 15 minutes. There is a link at the top to add your business, and a link to set up gift cards if you don’t currently offer them.”
“There are a lot of positives to shopping locally, but the biggest positive is your next door neighbor or your friends may be working at that store, may be part of the economy supporting that store, part of the economy that store supports,” said Battle. “If we take a minute to think about how much these stores mean to us … and support them, we make for a great Christmas for us and a great Christmas for them, a successful holiday season … so shop local and spend big (dollars).”