Books, clothes, outdoor gear, toys, bath soaps, cooking spices, hobby supplies, massages, movies, dinner, coffee, artwork.
Small businesses across Casper are stocked with these and more holiday gifts, with many offering sales, events, treats and other goodies to draw customers this holiday season. One of the biggest shopping days of the year for many of them is the Saturday after Thanksgiving, known as Small Business Saturday.
The growing movement promotes locally-owned shops to support them and the local economy while strengthening the community.
Shopping local generates tax dollars for the town, county and state, and importantly, it generates local income, said Anne Alexander, who earned her doctorate degree in economics at University of Wyoming and is the Associate Vice President for Undergraduate Education there.
“When we shop locally, our neighbors who own and work at small businesses use the money to pay payroll, insurance, their light bill, their grocery bill,” Alexander said in an email. “The holidays, especially events like Small Business Saturday, can get people into stores and shops and using services they may not have ever explored or thought about before.”
Supporting, being part of local community
Small Business Saturday is an alternative to online shopping or big-box stores’ Black Friday deals, said Nicole Crabb, co-owner and art director of Rally Shop Local, a marketing and media company for local businesses.
The company is kicking off the holiday shopping season with a Small Business Saturday event Nov. 26 at Scarlow’s Gallery downtown with a pop-up bar, coffee and shuttle rides. The event is designed to spotlight local shops, restaurants and services with a fun, social event, Crabb said.
“When you spend your money locally, you’re supporting your community,” Crabb said. “Basically the people in the businesses is what makes Casper, Casper.”
Claire Marlow is the owner of Scarlow’s Gallery and the adjoining Goedicke’s Custom Framing & Art Supply, as well as a new mother of an 8-month-old. She also looks forward to kicking off holiday shopping season with an event that people will enjoy, she said.
The best part of running a small business is getting to know customers and drawing the community closer with events from this weekend’s event to the monthly Casper Art Walks, she said.
Business has been slower this year with Wyoming’s economic downturn for her and her fellow downtown businesses. Small businesses often are forgotten and hit hardest, Marlow said.
“Everyone is definitely feeling it, and I think that’s why we work so hard and are doing these sorts of events,” Marlow said. “It’s not just to spend money, but to come out and be a part of it.”
Local shopping is crucial to keeping small bookstores and other shops alive, and the holidays are an important time for them, Wind City Books owner Vicki Burger said.
“I think for any retail businesses the Christmas season is vital and part of your projection of your budget for the coming year,” Burger said.
“For any retail business, it’s a large percentage of your annual income.”
Sylvia Hiler opened Alpenglow, a health food and products store, nearly three decades ago and has seen online shopping hit local businesses, including hers. She believes the local shopping movements are beginning bring more business to local shops, and she’s seen more young people in the store lately.
“It’s especially important to Wyoming because of the downturn in the industries,” Hiler said. “If we had all those tax dollars that are going to the internet, we could definitely use them in this state.”
Visitors to local shops will see fliers that Rally and Backwards Distillery recently posted around local storefronts detailing the impact of Amazon sales in Wyoming. Numbers they gathered from civiceconomics.com state that last year Amazon sold $116.7 million to Wyoming while avoiding $6.3 million in state and local sales tax.
Small Business Saturday started as an American Express initiative in 2010 and is celebrated by mom-and-pop shops around the country.
“The Small Business Saturday numbers indicate that since this became an emphasis – in response to Black Friday craziness – about a third of Americans shop small on Small Business Saturday,” Alexander said. “More than $14 billion is spent in local small businesses on that day alone. That’s pretty impressive.”
Outside the box
Local businesses can offer a higher level of service and more fun shopping experiences, Burger said. For instance, several customers come in to her bookstore each year with lists of ages and genders of their grandchildren or nieces and nephews.
Burger and her staff members walk them through the store and help them pick out books, which customers later tell them were hits, she said. The store also offers pricing competitive with Amazon though its website, and customers online or in person can order any book not in stock to arrive within days, Burger said.
Reed Merschat looks forward to the first holiday season of his new antiques and collectibles store, Survivor AC Dealers. People can find antique display items and quirky, functional home items increasingly popular with retro-obsessed younger crowds. You can’t find any of that at a big-box store, he said.
“If you’re into older electronics or antique glass figurines or whatever, usually you can find something that somebody will enjoy,” Merschat said. “It’s got a better story than new items.”
Local shops are scattered throughout Casper and surrounding communities, offering everything from music to fishing and camping gear, Crabb said. She encourages people to also consider gift certificates for locally-owned restaurants, spas, salons, massage therapists, coffee and other businesses that remind people to take time out for themselves.
“Those are some of the best gifts,” she said.
Local businesses often serve treats and run specials on Small Business Saturday.
“It really can build a sense of community,” Alexander said. “It feels a little less commercial and a lot more like a community celebration, in my opinion. More in spirit with the season.”
Supporting local businesses keeps unique stores in town and benefits not just local families, but the entire community, Crabb said. They in turn support other local artists, artisans and business and often local charities – often without recognition.
“These are people who know what people need in Casper,” Crabb said. “They have our local flavor here … and you get to know your community here. It’s the relationship.”
Follow reporter Elysia Conner on Twitter @ink_pix