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It’s the time of year when our gift-giving lists are long and the stack of big-box store catalogs is deep.
It’s also a time when we’re hearing a lot about going local for everything from banking to buying gifts. There was even a nationwide campaign to support small businesses on Nov. 26. But with online shopping, free shipping deals and stores that sell everything from the holiday turkey to Tickle Me Elmo, it’s obvious why the retail giants reign over the Christmas shopping season. Small retailers are hoping this year is different.
“People want to feel wholesome this year, and shopping local is wholesome,” said Carrie Schulstad, owner of The Uncommon Gift in downtown Camas. “It’s very different when you have a store owner who knows your name.”
We asked a few Clark County retailers to give us their tips for shopping locally this year.
• Break for shopping. One of the perks of shopping at a small, independent business is that you can often get in and out with ease. No big parking lots, long checkout lines or cavernous stores to get lost in. Leslie Runyan, owner of Erik Runyan Jewelers, said she likes to use her lunch hour to make quick shopping trips. As a bonus, many areas where people work have small retailers within walking distance or a short drive. You’re likely to dodge a Saturday crowd, and your own time constraints will keep you focused.
• Get creative with wrapping. Make the packaging part of the gift, said Reshell Douglas, owner of Not Too Shabby in Vancouver’s Uptown Village district. She might track down a second-hand vase, dress it up and place her gift inside. That way, she said, it feels more personal and can make even a small gift seem charming. “Then I feel like it’s something I personally coordinated for them,” she said. “I want people to feel like I really thought it out, I really put a lot of effort into it.”
• New or not, it’s OK. Don’t be afraid to shop second hand, said Karey Dillingham, owner of Karey’s Kreative Interiors on Northeast St. Johns Road. Whether it’s from a shop like hers that mixes new, old and repurposed items or an antique store, if you pick a gift with that person it mind, a second-hand treasure can express the perfect sentiment. “I get tired of going to the big-box stores where everything is the same,” Dillingham said.
• Give a useful gift. Schulstad of The Uncommon Gift said to think of things people use regularly. Lotions, bath products, salts, oils and wine are just a few. Many people won’t buy a luxurious lotion for themselves, but getting one as a gift is a treat, she said. Those presents can be perfect for that person who already has everything.
• You can go local with a gift certificate. Schulstad suggests salons, restaurants or even hotels as local gift-giving opportunities. Her goal is to shop entirely in downtown Camas, and she hasn’t yet received a complaint about gift certificates she’s given to friends and family from those local businesses.
• Log on before you head out. Facebook has become a huge marketing tool for small retailers because it’s a free way to share a lot of information quickly. Kazoodles owner Mary Sisson said her east Vancouver toy store posts updates to Facebook regularly, sharing deals, new products and shopping tips. “Something really cool may come in, and we’ll post it there,” she said. “It’s a great way to communicate.”
• Hold the plastic, pass the cash. Shopping with cash in hand has long been a budget-conscious strategy, but this holiday season many retailers are trying to spread the word about how debit and credit cards eat into their bottom line. They are charged a fee for each card processed, typically based on a percentage of the sale. “I never thought about it before owning a store,” Sisson said. She’s already seen slightly more people pulling out cash than in previous years.
Pick a gift
Have no idea what to get someone? One of the great things about shopping in small stores is that you can often talk directly with a person who knows a lot about shopping and exactly what that store offers. Don’t be shy, ask for help. Go in with these details and ask away: Know your budget; the recipient’s profession, hobbies, interests or needs; and how you’ll send the gift — if you intend to ship it, a shopkeeper can help you find something that isn’t too heavy, large or breakable.
Here’s what local merchants say are the hot items this holiday season.
• Maybe the economy is to blame, but inspirational quotes and sayings on plaques, coasters or wall art are a big trend, said Reshell Douglas of Not Too Shabby.
• TV show “Portlandia” joked that if you put a bird on it, it will sell. “I completely crack up, but it’s true,” said Carrie Schulstad of The Uncommon Gift.
• Nobody likes a closet full of forgotten toys. Quality toys that will grow with a child and will last for more than one brief phase are always popular, said Mary Sisson of Kazoodles.