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9 things about supporting small businesses during the holiday shopping season

The Crescent Collective in Liverpool, NY
Matt Fairfax

We're in the final days of what's arguably the busiest shopping season of the year, and the region's local shops and stores are anticipating a bump from community shoppers.

On the latest episode of Syracuse Speaks, WAER spoke with Michelle Cruse, owner of the Cracked Bean Roastery & Cafe in Syracuse, and Lucretia Hudzinski, membership director of the Greater Liverpool Chamber of Commerce, to better understand how businesses are working to get shoppers to buy local.

1. Small business owners are facing similar challenges throughout Central New York. 
Cruse said a lot of small business owners in Syracuse's Eastwood neighborhood were worried how hiring struggles would impact the holiday rush.

“I think the biggest one that all of the owners are struggling with is staffing and hours of operation, and then chain supply,” said Cruse. “So normally, if you want your product in-house for the holiday season, you’re placing those orders in August, and Sept. 30 is kind of a cut-off for holiday ordering. This year, a lot of retailers, including myself, we were making purchases in May and June to help make sure that we had items in stock during the holiday season.”

Hudzinski said the shortage of employees is forcing some businesses to alter their store hours.

“Staffing is an issue, and trying to keep those hours of operation consistent,” said Hudzinski. “And that’s been a difficulty because sometimes people have had to change their hours of operation because they didn’t have the staff, or canceling catering and other things that they had to do.”

2. Small businesses are competing with the big dogs of the shopping world this holiday season.
Hudzinski said small businesses in the Liverpool area are competing with large online retailers and big box stores, but local stores are adapting to the competition by pulling double duty: embracing online ordering while still maintaining the in-store customer experience.

“So they have online, the ability to order online, as well as the ability to have someone come into the store," said Hudzinski. "And then coming into their store, trying to be unique, trying to bring people in, to be able to shop there, but to bring them in for other reasons, so that people will come into their store.”

3. Holiday interest is noticeable for a lot of these small businesses.
Cruse said some stores in her neighborhood are already seeing an uptick in business. And a trip to the village of Liverpool shows shops outside the city of Syracuse are also feeling the love.

A bookseller at the Golden Bee Bookshop said the store is also seeing more shoppers because many locals have loved ones coming for the holidays.

“It sounds like we have a lot of that happening throughout the month where a lot of people have visitors coming in. So it looks like we’ll have a lot of people coming in here to do some Christmas shopping," the employee, Aaron said.

A short drive down the street at The Crescent Collective, co-owner Liz London said she's expecting a large uptick in traffic after the lingering impact of past Covid-related restrictions may finally fade away.

“I feel like this is going to be the year that everybody comes out of their shell quite a bit more,” London said. “We’ve been in hibernation a while post-COVID and then everything going on with travel and travel advisories, but I think this is the year that people are going to be spending more time with family and friends.”

London said she hopes that'll translate into a busy shopping season that's felt across the entire small business community.

“I think that supporting the other people who are also trying to do those same endeavors is really important this year more than any,” said London.

4. Google can see what holiday shoppers are searching for this year.
Gift giving and gift receiving are both staples of the holiday season. Many people this year are hoping to find and receive certain gifts on their holiday lists, and Google can track this. Google Trends expert Jessica Levis shared what the company is seeing people search for this year:

“First and foremost is pickleball,” Levis said. “We saw a 500% increase in pickleball related searches, which makes sense because I feel like everyone around me is playing pickleball this year. In the home and garden space, I think one of my favorites is the home pizza oven.”

Levis said the tech company identified the top trending items into its Google 100 list. However, the most popular gadgets may not be among the unique items on the shelves at an independent store that aims to set itself apart.

Levis said local businesses should make sure they have an online presence so they appear in search results and on Google Maps.

5. Small businesses are taking to social media to attract more customers during the holiday season.
In an attempt to get the word out to customers about shopping local this holiday season, some business owners are trying to increase their digital presence to not only promote their business, but also tell different stories. Cruse said social media can help attract customers even if they don’t exactly know what a specific business offers.

“The Cracked Bean—so you know that they offer coffee, but on our social media presence, we talk about all of the other things that we do locally, or that we’re affiliated with, or that we support,” she said.

For Hudzinski, social media has been a useful tool to communicate about new business and establish a connection between the customer and owner, something unique to small businesses.

“We love Facebook Live,” Hudzinski said. “It was turned onto us during COVID. We were trying to make sure that although businesses were alive, even though they couldn’t open their doors, how could they still be viable? So we have done Facebook Lives every Monday. We have what’s called Member Monday, and it’s introducing the new members and what they do, but also what’s going on in the community,” Hudzinski said.

6. But social media may not always translate into money spent.
Cruse said her coffee shop sees activity on its social media posts, but can't measure how that's affecting their bottom line.

“There’s no real way to say that a customer that walked through the door or made an online purchase, saw us through TikTok, or online, through Facebook, Instagram, or whatever other social media aspect that you’re using,” Cruse said.

Cruse said she prefers traditional advertising.

“We truly believe that the best way to grow business is through word of mouth," she said.

7. Apart from social media, small business are getting creative with their approaches during the holiday season.
The Greater Liverpool Chamber of Commerce is pairing up with several small businesses in an effort to attract new customers this holiday shopping season.

Hudzinski said the chamber prepared goodie bags full of items from the shops in the area to reflect the variety of products on sale in the Liverpool area.

“We’ve asked our chamber members to give us 200 items to put into those bags. So it’s everything from coupons to actually water bottles, and somebody just gave us what’s unique to this area now, and that’s a snow scraper and a brush," she said.

8. Small businesses believe consumers have a responsibility throughout the shopping period.
Citing that big box stores can go anywhere in the world, Hudzinski said that if people want their community to thrive, they must support those local shops.

“It’s up to the consumer that if you want your community to survive, you need to support local,” said Hudzinski. “You don’t want to wake up tomorrow and go what happened to my neighborhood?”

Hudzinski also said small businesses in Liverpool have made an effort to establish relationships with local legislators.

“A lot of them have gotten to know our businesses and have supported them, and actually will have many of their activities at those local businesses,” said Hudzinski.

Cruse said officials can take simple steps to ensure the local business community thrives during the holiday season.

“My quickest and easiest answer is to get out of their car and out of their offices,” said Cruse. “Go out and visit the places that you drive by all the time. And our simple answer from our team is, if you have the time, and you’re willing to do it, take a little walk down the road and see all of the phenomenal businesses that are popped up right here in Eastwood.”

9. Small businesses can be the backbone of supportive communities.
Michael John Haggerty, the founder and co-owner of Wildflowers Armory and the McCarthy Mercantile, said small businesses play an essential role in the construction of supportive communities.

“I don’t mean to sound too much like a Jedi when I say this, but the life force of any city, town or village is the small businesses within it,” Haggerty said. “And I feel like by supporting small business, it goes a lot further than enriching the local economy. You really are directing the local economy, first of all, but secondly, those people are chasing their dreams, and you’re really helping people grow and chase their dreams, if you support small.”

Haggerty said even if you only shop local one out of every 10 times, the one time still can enhance the environment of your own local economy.

Explore some of the small, independent shops in the Central New York region with theShop Small mapby American Express. Syracuse's Downtown Committee also has a holiday guide of stores and events, including holiday markets.

Matt Fairfax is an undergraduate student studying Broadcast & Digital Journalism at Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, expected to graduate in May 2023.