Seven Ways Cities Can Support Small Businesses During the Holidays

Efforts to shop small and shop locally are especially critical because they bolster the local economy – and since local sales taxes are often not collected for online purchases, encouraging residents to support local merchants is also a fiscal win for many cities.

In Roanoke, Virginia, the city's Dickens of a Christmas events on Friday evenings in December include a tree lighting, pet costume parade, and local vendors selling food and gifts. (Getty Images)

In Roanoke, Virginia, the city’s Christmas events on Friday evenings in December include local vendors selling food and gifts. (Getty Images)

‘Tis the season for spending money. The latest National Retail Federation survey estimates that the average American consumer will spend $935.58 during the holidays on gifts, food, and other seasonal items. The majority of holiday shoppers plan to spend their cash at large department stores, big-name discount shops, or online. Unfortunately, only 23 percent of respondents said they planned to shop at a local or small business.

With the holidays now in full swing, there are several strategies your city should implement to ensure local businesses are reaping the benefits of this season of gift-giving and celebrating. Efforts to shop small and shop locally are especially critical because they bolster the local economy. Since local sales taxes are often not collected for online purchases, encouraging residents to shop at local brick-and-mortar establishments is also a fiscal win for many cities.

Here are seven ways you can ensure your city’s local businesses enjoy a holiday season that is merry and bright:

Convene your local business owners and follow their creative lead. Use your role as a convener to help local businesses connect, collaborate, and feel empowered to establish creative marketing tactics to attract holiday shoppers. As a case in point, small business owners in Edmond, Oklahoma, developed a small business passport that offers incentives and prizes to shoppers that receive a “stamp” at multiple stores.

Develop a “Made In” branding campaign. Shoppers are increasingly looking for unique, hand-made items from their hometowns to purchase for themselves and as gifts. One way to indicate to shoppers that an item is made locally is to create a branding campaign for locally-made goods. New Haven, Connecticut, Mayor Toni Harp recently collaborated with local artists and businesses to develop a “Made in New Haven” logo to “showcase New Haven as a home of people with great ideas.”

Host a holiday event with pop-up shops featuring local retailers. A holiday-themed market or event in your city’s downtown area is a wonderful placemaking strategy, and also gives local retailers the chance to share their goods and services with the community. In Roanoke, Virginia, the city comes together for “The Dickens of a Christmas” events on Friday evenings in December. The city’s events include a tree lighting, pet costume parade, and local vendors selling food and gifts.

Share resources for businesses about the holiday shopping season. The holiday season usually means a surge in new customers, and particularly for newer businesses, it’s important to make sure this isn’t a missed opportunity. As a way to help local shops prepare for the season, New York City’s Small Business Services office shares holiday tips for business owners, including how to recruit and hire seasonal help and how to participate in holiday markets and events.

Market local businesses through an online store or social media. Join forces with other cities in your region or state to build an online site where local businesses can advertise and sell their items. Celebrate Local is an organization and online shop for artisans and makers from all across the state of Ohio. Holiday shoppers have access to over 300 local shops selling everything from salsa to soap to stickers made with homegrown products and ingredients. Social media is also a great way to help market local businesses. Shops in West Hollywood, California, are encouraged to submit photos of their decorated storefronts to the local chamber of commerce’s Instagram account as a way to spread holiday cheer, and attract customers.

Donate items from local small businesses. If your office is hosting a charity drive during the holidays, encourage your colleagues to purchase clothing and food from small shops. Donating items from local stores is a win-win for the local economy and for helping neighbors in need.

Buy local, celebrate local. What would the holidays be without an office holiday celebration? If you’re reading this, you’re also undoubtedly planning to attend an office lunch or gathering at some point in December. Show support for your local small businesses by serving your favorite local coffee and placing a catering order with a local food truck.

From all of us at NLC, wishing you a happy and healthy local economy (and holiday season)!

About the Author: Emily Robbins is Principal Associate for Economic Development at NLC. Follow Emily on Twitter @robbins617.