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Every holiday season, restaurateurs, retailers, and other small businesses encourage customers to shop local, with the shopping season formally kicking off with Small Business Saturday. As COVID challenges continue to plague businesses in all areas of operation from employee recruitment to competition for sales against giant online marketers, Vermont’s small business community is getting creative and taking advantage of the digital marketplace.

As the vice president of tourism for the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, I’ve witnessed our members doubling down on digital engagement to compete this holiday season for job recruitment, customer retention and engagement, and creative purchasing opportunities. Vermont makers and merchants have embraced an innovative spirit to meet their challenges head on.

Whether it’s maintaining and building relationships with customers or helping shoppers to experience the wonder of Vermont in person, developing a robust online presence is not only convenient and entertaining, but also essential. As Vermont businesses are geared up to launch marketing campaigns with traditional paid ads supporting their local newspapers, radio and television stations, they have also turned to social media tools to entice customers to buy products or visit their retail locations.

For example, digital innovations boosted Lawson’s Finest Liquids’ ability to build and maintain relationships with its customers. Lawson’s Finest is known for producing high-quality craft brews, like its Sip of Sunshine IPA and unique maple brews. But as it continues to build their brand and reach, Lawson’s using Facebook Live to regularly host conversations with their customers and answer their questions. And Lawson’s is promoting its “Tuesday Tunes” and “Open Mic” nights via Facebook Events.

Additionally, at the pandemic onset, Lawson’s pivoted to online sales through its website and developed a curbside pick-up service to support its retail business, which made some customers more comfortable not to have to go into a retail outlet. Lawson’s Finest even used its digital communications channels to launch a brand-new brew — Little Sip IPA — during the pandemic. By using creative promotional giveaways and scavenger hunts, they were able to connect directly with fans to encourage them to try their new beers.

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As with many specialty food businesses, Lake Champlain Chocolates maintained operations throughout the pandemic, providing consistent employment for its longtime staff, as well as continued support of the broader community by using locally sourced ingredients, like Vermont honey and maple syrup, in its handcrafted products. Lake Champlain Chocolates has been hosting virtual chocolate tastings via Zoom, something that has caught on with corporate groups. It added new digital features to its website to provide a better virtual shopping experience for customers and are promoting “order online pick up in-store” purchases through local Google pay-per-click campaigns, OTT (over-the-top) advertising through streaming video, paid social media and local digital advertising like Front Porch Forum.

Deploying marketing tactics over social media to attract new employees has also gained momentum, especially with holiday sales ramping up. There are many holiday season employment opportunities, and Vermont’s employers are turning to LinkedIn, Facebook Jobs and Indeed to connect with job seekers.

Vermont’s businesses fuel our economy by offering quality goods and services, while at the same time providing good-paying jobs. These employers also provide financial benefits that in turn help to create sustainable and engaging communities. Our hope is that this holiday season, and beyond, Vermonters and tourists alike go out of their way to support our local businesses, as they are an integral part of our greater community.

While supporting Vermont’s retailers, restaurateurs and other businesses during the pandemic has been incredibly important, it’s even more vital to support the surviving small businesses now. There are plenty of ways our small businesses offer virtual engagement and shopping, so go find them online. This holiday season, you can support Vermont businesses in person — or right from your home.

Amy Spear, of Killington, is the vice president of tourism at the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, whose mission is focused on creating an economic climate conducive to business growth while enhancing Vermont’s quality of life.