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Friday, January 22, 2021

Holiday shopping could make or break small business during the pandemic

A gift guide to popular Bellingham businesses

Local ingredients at Clara’s Canning Co. Photo by Ona Lee;
Local ingredients at Clara’s Canning Co. Photo by Ona Lee;

By Olivia Hicks 

With both  Small Business Saturday approaching on Nov. 28 and the impact the pandemic has left on local businesses, consider supporting Bellingham shops this holiday season. 

Christi Milka, a Bellingham resident, plans to support local businesses during the holidays. Milka said shopping locally means looking out for your neighbors and community members who own small businesses. 

“It’s important to draw more attention to our local communities,” Milka said. “If we are more conscientious of the people [small business owners] around us that are a part of our local community, maybe people will be more likely to wear masks and be a little bit safer. Knowing your neighbors is going to make you care about them.”

Without craft bazaars, where local artists and vendors are usually highlighted during the holidays, Milka said she worries about the vendors’ income. 

Supporting one local business fuels the local economy as a whole. It creates a ripple effect, said Rhiannon Troutman, owner of Fringe Boutique. 

“Bellingham is a unique place in that so many of the businesses here are locally operated and owned,” Troutman said. “When you shop at a local business, you’re keeping that money within a local family, a local business, the people they employ, and a lot of local businesses also shop at other local businesses. For example, I get my business cards and all my clothing tags printed at a local printer down the street.” 

COVID-19 has posed several challenges to local businesses, but the most pressing is uncertainty, said Kevin Hoult, manager of strategic initiatives at the Western Washington University Small Business Development Center. 

“There is a saying about American small businesses: They can survive anything but uncertainty,” Hoult said. “Uncertainty is incredibly damaging to any business enterprise because of the critical need for planning.” 

Hoult said small businesses should advertise their services and use social media as a medium, since many customers may assume that their favorite local shops are closed or don’t have online shopping. For customers, a quick call to local businesses can make a big difference. 

“I think in some cases it’s just a matter of helping the small business owner recover from the shock of what’s happened,” Hoult said. “Once people get their feet back under them, they’ll be able to depend on their natural level of innovation and adaptability.” 

Ona Lee, owner of Clara’s Canning Co., exemplifies the flexibility needed to stay afloat. Lee’s shop offers to-go meals, T-shirts, gift cards and canned goods, which will be restocked soon. Lee has shifted her business to meet consumer demand and now makes homemade butter, along with weekly meals.

Even with uncertainty, Lee has provided the community with free meals. 

“One of my goals for my business is to be of service to the community,” Lee said. “I did a free food program during the initial shutdown when the food banks and everything went down for three or four months. Now, I’m making Thanksgiving dinners for the folks camping at the 210 base camp.” 

Lee hopes Bellingham residents can support small-scale producers and creators.

“I have a joking platform: bring back the blacksmith,” Lee said. “We used to have these specific repair people, makers and creators, and all of that has been conglomerated and removed. Small towns like

Bellingham are prime locations for that kind of return. In one way, the gig economy is really bad for the workers. But in another way, a lot of people have found that they are independently good at something.”

While a lack of consumer disposable income is one challenge presented during COVID-19, an increase in sales tax collections in Washington has revealed residents are spending money. 

“It’s a year to think outside of the box,” Troutman said. “I just want people to think about the places that they would usually support, and if they’re not able to physically shop in a store like they would before or say there’s a place they always like to go out to dinner, buy a gift certificate or if you don’t know how to support that business, call them.” 

Bellingham residents have taken to social media to ask which local businesses to support during the holidays. 

Here are a few: 

Whimsey: 

Cami Grichel, owner of Whimsey, said the shop relies on holiday sales to get through the first of the year. The jewelry store features designs from local and regional artists, including rings, earrings, bracelets and necklaces. For shoppers, Whimsey is open Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., but hours may increase during the holidays. Private shopping appointments are available along with online shopping, shipping or curbside pick-up. 

Fringe Boutique: 

Fringe Boutique offers a variety of holiday gifts including pillows, candles, macrame from a local artist, stickers, cards, apparel, shoes, jewelry and gift wrap. Fringe also offers private holiday shopping parties for up to five people. The owner, Rhiannon Troutman, recommended shopping with people you are quarantining with. Fringe offers online shopping, shipping and in-store pick-up. 

Clara’s Canning Co:

Clara’s Canning Co. offers locally sourced food and weekly and holiday specials. Lee said 80-90% of ingredients are sourced within 100 miles of Bellingham. Holiday specials include dinner rolls, butter made with cream from Lynden, pie crust, buttermilk biscuits and puff pastry, all sourced within 30 miles of Bellingham. Lee recommends gift cards or T-shirts that are printed in Bellingham and hand-dyed by Lee for holiday gifts. Lee delivers in Bellingham for a $5 fee or offers free pick-up.  

Northwest Yarns: 

Northwest Yarns offers supplies and gifts ranging from beginner kits, cross-stitch kits, looms and crochet and knitting supplies. Echo Mae, co-owner of Northwest Yarns, recommended gifts for less crafty people, including screen printed bags and pottery. The craft shop offers online shopping, free shipping for orders over $35, free delivery in Bellingham and in-store and curbside pick-up. Northwest Yarns also provides free beginner knitting and crocheting Zoom classes. On Small Business Saturday, Nov. 28, all yarn and fiber is 15% off. Deals will also occur for the 12 days of holiday sales starting Dec. 12, Mae said. 

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