It’s always the same script every year as the holiday season rolls around. Marketing campaigns and commissioned influencers convince us of our need for the year’s hottest toy or trending gadget, and we follow suit by standing in line at big-box retailers or searching online for a free delivery option.
But this year is different. With current supply-chain and shipping issues, the items on your list are more likely to be stuck in transit than to make it under your tree. Instead of feeling discouraged by the empty shelves and January delivery dates, the disruption could provide the perfect opportunity to discover the wide variety of local shopping options available in your own backyard.
Here are some ideas for a shop local strategy that will help both Santa and small businesses:
1. Pop-Ups and Markets
If trendy items and a fun shopping experience are on your list, then pop-ups and markets might be your ticket to seasonal success. A pop-up shop is a temporary retail space that opens for a short amount of time to offer new products in a high-traffic area. Like food trucks for retail, pop-up shops employ a “get it before it’s gone” feeling to generate buzz and provide an experience for shoppers that’s different, and often more personal, than traditional brick and mortar locations.
Similarly, a collection of temporary vendors in one location is characterized as a market, offering a wider variety of items and a community atmosphere. Many towns in Southwest Michigan host outdoor markets from May to October to highlight local farmers and artisans. And when the weather turns colder, holiday markets emerge in fun locations to pair up local vendors with shoppers looking for handcrafted items and maybe a free sample of kettle corn or gourmet hot chocolate to sip while you shop.
Wondering where you can find these fun markets? One tip is to follow your favorite local market vendors on social media, like Sticky Spoons Jam, LLC, to see where they are planning to set up next. Founder and owner Aiye Akhigbe offers over 100 seasonal flavors of sticky goodness at markets across our area, like the Grand LV Small Business Artisan Market on Saturday, November 27. In addition, Sticky Spoons gives back to the community through their Share The Love Program by supporting area food banks. According to Akhigbe, “Shopping local means you are supporting someone you know – a neighbor, friend, relative, or even a friend of a friend.”
2. Small Shops
Less square footage doesn’t have to mean less variety. Small shops often specialize in a specific product category and stock an abundance of high-quality offerings you can’t find anywhere else. Often the folks behind the counter share their expertise to help you find a unique gift for even the pickiest person on your list. From locally sourced meats and artisan cheeses to independent booksellers and handcrafted bath and body products, small shops offer a way to spread holiday cheer while supporting local entrepreneurs. And small stores aren’t just for big kids, visit the play experts at The Toy Company in downtown St. Joseph to find something fun for everyone.
The Saturday after Thanksgiving (November 27 this year!) is Small Business Saturday, a perfect day to grab your friends and head to Main Street America for a day of local eats, local treats, and special deals and giveaways.
3. Handmade Gifts
If you’re looking for gifts that come from the heart, you might want to start with ones made from the hands of local craftsmen. Talent abounds in our corner of Michigan, a place teeming with “makers” who produce items that can be gifted with sentimentality and intentionality. Why choose a handbag stamped on an assembly line for mom when you can select a hand-stitched one? No need to travel to the big city for fine chocolate, we have experienced chocolatiers right in our neck of the woods with decorative boxes that won’t even need to be wrapped. Contact J.Kru Sweets to order trays of truffles, cinnamon-sugared pecans, and chocolate-covered strawberries for your holiday party or their famous hot cocoa bombs for stocking stuffers.
And if you’re interested in making a special gift yourself, an ever-changing menu of classes and workshops in our area can help you become a glassblower, potter, or artist – if only for a day. During the month of October, you can design your own glass pumpkin at Water Street Glassworks in the Benton Harbor Arts District. Additional classes will be offered in November to design your own glass ornament and both workshops serve as fundraisers for the non-profit, 501 (c)(3) school and public access studio.
For the adventure enthusiast or epicure on your list, an experience gift will be more meaningful and memorable than anything tied up with a bow. In the heart of the fruit belt, surrounded by nature trails and wineries, and bordered by Lake Michigan, opportunities abound for those who prefer to participate in life rather than sit on the sidelines. A membership to Fernwood Botanical Garden and Nature Preserve offers an outdoor adventure all year round, with additional discounts on nature and art camps, classes, and workshops in every season. Check out their incredible pumpkin house this fall and make your reservations for this year’s LIGHTS at Fernwood event.
Design an Instagram-worthy adventure for the crafter, hiker, chef, or musician in your life. The anticipation will add to the excitement of the holiday, and you’ll set the example that love is often spelled T-I-M-E.
In the coming weeks, we’ll feature local businesses in each category of our shop local series to help you skip the lines, avoid the shortages, and shop Southwest Michigan for the holidays.
About the Writer: Stacey Martin is a local author and freelance writer with a passion for promoting Southwest Michigan. She is the creator and host of “The Folks Back Home” podcast, a former marketing executive, and current Domestic Director of a house full of kids.
Buy Local Berrien’s Holiday Shopping Series is brought to you by Forever Clean Soap Works on Cleveland Ave in St. Joseph. Shop handcrafted soaps, bath bombs, candles, lip balm and more in a festive, fun, and delicious-smelling setting!