Business owners explain why Vermonters should shop local

Posted
Harmony Birch

Brattleboro Reformer



BELLOWS FALLS — While some people may wake up at the crack of dawn Friday morning or line up at box stores late Thanksgiving night, local stores are gearing up for a calmer but arguably more satisfying shopping experience.

Small Business Saturday is an alternative to the rush of Black Friday. On Small Business Saturday, local businesses shine.

The campaign was started in 2010 by American Express to encourage spending at local businesses. Vermont is attempting to increase awareness of the movement. On Tuesday, the Small Business Administration Vermont issued a press release urging Vermonters to shop locally. In 2016, national local spending on Small business Saturday was at $15.4 billion. In 2012, the spending was at only $5 billion, according to the press release.

In Vermont, there are approximately 77,500 small businesses, which account for 99.1 percent of all businesses in the state. The state's small businesses employ about 156,000 people, about 60 percent of the private workforce, according to the Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy annual report.

In Bellows Falls, Small Business Saturday extends to the entire holiday season with the Bellows Falls Downtown Development Alliance's Shop Local campaign.

Pat Fowler, an owner of Village Square Books, has been the Small Business ambassador for BFDDA for the past five years.

"It keeps your downtown vibrant," she said.

Each year American Express provides her with advertising materials to get people excited and she hands them out to local businesses. But BFDDA has expanded the concept. The organization encourages businesses to take part in other activities like Plaid Friday, when customers and employees wear plaid. Businesses also offer special activities and classes; some offer food and refreshments.

Plaid Friday kicked off BFDDA's Open House Weekend. Small Business Saturday is just one of the many events BFDDA businesses use to generate excitement.

Fowler believes that most people living in the Bellows Falls area are already excited by their local businesses. Some of that comes from education from BFDDA, but, she said, it's also because Bellows Falls has a lot to offer.

"We have a good mix of things," she said. She pointed to the village's hardware store, its boutiques and clothing stores, its antique store among many other examples.

Some customers, Fowler admitted, may be turned off to small businesses when they can get cheaper deals at box stores. She also admitted that the Village can't offer consumers everything they need, but, she said, people shouldn't be so quick to dismiss local businesses. Many businesses, she said, can offer items at competitive prices. She sells some children's books priced in the single digits and tries to stock her shelves with affordable toys, in addition to books, to make up for the village's lack of toy store.

Other business owners countered, too, that the shopping experience was better at local stores. When asked why consumers should go to Rock and Hammer, a Bellows Falls jewelry store, versus a box store, co-owner Lamont Barnett said, "price, service and quality. Box stores seldom offer all three."

Fowler agreed. At her store, she said, employees don't just stand at the register waiting for customers to come up with their purchases. Employees ask customer questions, make book recommendations and engage in conversation.

Michael Bruno, the owner of Windham Antiques, said his products simply can't be found at a box store.

"Pretty much everything we have is one of a kind," he said.

In addition to the actual shopping experience, Fowler said, shopping local guarantees that money is returned back to the community. Not only does it help support people who live, work and own homes in the community, but small businesses, she said, are more likely to support local charities and organizations. Some of the shop local programs BFDDA hosts, like Ladies Night, on Dec. 8, where some business proceeds go to charity. Ladies Night donations go to Dance Away Cancer/Relay for Life Team Super Hero.

For a full list of Small Business Saturday activities, participating locations and other BFDDA events go to the Bellows Falls Downtown Development Alliance (BFDDA) Facebook page.

Harmony Birch can be reached at hbirch@reformer.com, at @Birchharmony on Twitter and 802-254-2311, Ext. 153.

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