Support local businesses to preserve richness of Bellingham community
By Sadie Fick
Last December, shoppers entering a store were greeted by decorated evergreens, holiday music and crowds of other shoppers.
This year, the trees and music will still be there, but the crowds won’t, with cases of COVID-19 at an all-time high in Whatcom County.
As of Nov. 19, there are 197 cases per 100,000 people, according to the county’s COVID-19 dashboards.
In this situation, ordering gifts on Amazon can seem safest; however, supporting local businesses this holiday season is more important than ever, and there are ways to do it safely.
Jay Gaunt, who has lived in Bellingham for nine years, said his family is going to buy everything from local independent businesses this holiday season to support them after the hard year.
Gaunt said he thinks there’s a place for Amazon and chain businesses, but Bellingham would lose its vibrancy as a community without small businesses.
“One of the main things I fell in love with Bellingham is that it’s a do-it-yourself community,” Gaunt said. “It’s super important to support local businesses because it’s like [they] add the color into your life.”
“If you’re focused on shopping local and you know how important it is, do it now,” said Kevin Hoult from the Small Business Development Center. “We don’t know which way we’re going to
go on Dec. 14: more restricted or less restricted.”
Gov. Inslee’s current pandemic restrictions end on Dec. 14. Regulations will then be reassessed depending on the current case rates.
Gaunt said his family feels safe going to shops in person because most people shopping downtown and in Fairhaven are following masking and social distancing guidelines.
If the situation seems too risky or tougher restrictions are put in place, Amazon still isn’t the only option.
People can check local stores’ websites because many are offering online sales or curbside pick-up.
One such store is The Comics Place, a locally-owned store selling comics, graphic novels and board games. It closed a week before the stay-at-home notice in March and has been operating solely online since.
The Comics Place’s entire catalog is available for order through their online store, and they will deliver purchases for free anywhere in Bellingham.
“We're still doing a little bit better than I would have expected just based on how much I think our community cares about us,” said Jeff Figley, co-owner of The Comics Place.
While online sales have kept The Comics Place in business, Figley said he’s looking forward to having people in the store again.
“You can see people and have your faith in humanity restored by getting to have decent interactions with other decent people,” Figley said.
It’s possible to save money by shopping on Amazon, but spending a bit more locally helps the whole community.
“Obviously, you’re going to pay a little more,” Gaunt said. “But I’m comfortable with that because that $6 is keeping my favorite bookstore in business.”
Spending money locally helps in the long run by keeping sales and income taxes lower, Hoult said. A robust set of local businesses also means more jobs, especially for high school and college students.
If someone can’t find what they’re looking for at a local store, they can try independent internet retailers. One option is Etsy, an online space for independent creators to sell projects, from pillows to keychain attachments that project a Spiderman symbol. Start with Bellingham Etsy shops, then slowly expand the area if needed.
Even if the store a person ends up buying from is a local business in Minnesota instead of Bellingham, they’re still supporting small businesses.
“We’re really, really grateful that people have supported us as much as they have,” Figley said. “I just hope that it continues and that we all get to have a holiday eggnog in the comics store together one day ... maybe not eggnog. I’m not a huge eggnog fan.”