Over the past few years, we’ve seen an increasing desire among consumers to shop at and amplify local businesses. Some may simply label this a trend that started when Small Business Saturday and National Small Business Week started in 2010. Now, eleven years later, I’d say the shop local idea is bigger than a trend.
The Appeal of Shopping Small
Shopping local is something younger generations have been and continue to put value towards. From a basic economical standpoint, supporting small businesses means you’re spreading the wealth around. Instead of buying books from Amazon every single time, perhaps you visit an independent bookstore in your area. Or instead of going to the big chain grocery store every week, you grab your groceries from the market around the corner. Instead of giving your dollars to companies that have grown to dominate their industry, give love to those who may not be the most recognized, but have quality products and a passion for serving their local communities. Despite what we’ve been trained to think, the most well-known name doesn’t always equal the best product.
My bet is the popularity of shopping small and avoiding big business (when possible) will remain a hot topic. And it makes sense. Millennials, the generation with the most buying power, and the generation marketers have been figuring out how to sell to for years, are the group who made customization a big deal. What do I mean by that and how does customization relate to shopping local? Let me connect the dots.
To sell a product, there must be a market (people) ready and willing to buy it. Some product attributes are baseline qualifications to even be considered by consumers. For example, a baseline requirement for a computer may be that it is able to run several hours disconnected from a power source before it dies. If it doesn't, consumers would not be able to justify purchasing it and will consider buying a computer from a different brand. Personalization isn’t a baseline qualification, but rather a “nice to have” quality that tends to make the millennial shopper more willing to purchase. Have you ever wondered why you can now buy shampoo and conditioner with your name on the bottle from the company Function of Beauty? Why do skincare brands such as Curology run on the main fact that their products are made specifically for your skin type and needs? Being personalizable adds uniqueness to an otherwise commoditized product. Millennials see value in being able to buy a product that was made specifically for them and therefore, are willing to pay a little more for it. This personalization is adjacently situated to the feeling of ownership. And that's worth something. Take it from a past advertising student to know what Millennials like.
Now to tie it back to shopping locally, not only do we love the feeling of being able to help a small business, but we love what we get from them: exclusive items and one-of-a-kind pieces. Pieces that only we own and that show off our individualized identity and personality. In addition, shopping small can sometimes lead to a greater, more personalized relationship with the business owner or artisan. Buying isn't just transactional; it becomes conversational. Recently, I stopped by a few small businesses and was able to pick up a few goodies that add a bit of uniqueness and personality to my life. I can't wait to share them with you.
But First, a Disclaimer
As I write about the joys of shopping small, I have to address one of the biggest reasons why it may not be doable at times - the price tag. Because smaller retailers do not manufacture as much inventory as chain retailers, their items may be more expensive. Yes, buying from a larger brand or company may be cheaper but that’s only because they have the money and resources to mass-produce. Buying large quantities of materials and producing on a grand scale allows companies to lower overall production costs, enabling them to sell items at lower prices while still making a profit. I recognize that shopping small can be a financial burden. Just know that it is completely okay if shopping local is not a priority for you right now. A lot can be said on this topic, but that's a whole essay on its own. For now, I will continue to highlight some Chicago shops I love. That said, here we go...
Shop #1: TUSK
The first place I’ll highlight is TUSK, a small boutique that sells vintage women’s clothing and accessories. Mary Eleanor is the shop’s owner and she told me that many pieces at the shop are made or curated by her friends. How cool is that? Not only is the shop a great creative outlet for her, but she’s able to support her equally as creative friends as well. After browsing the shop for what seemed like hours, I walked out with a beautiful satin hair scrunchie. It’s in an elegant sage green color but is chunky enough to be a statement accessory.
Shop #2: Eskell
On that same day, I was also able to hit up Eskell, a stunning shop that sells clothing, homeware, and small treats that can brighten up anyone’s life. It was hard to pick exactly what to buy since everything in the store looked so thoughtfully made, but I left happy with a small decorated vase that now lives happily on my dresser. I adore the color and it puts a smile on my face whenever I see it.
Shop #3: 77 Merchants Chicago
The last item I’ll highlight today is a top I purchased from 77 Merchants Chicago. It’s a gingham button-up remade with the word “Chicago '' in bright pink font. At first, it may seem to be your average button-up but the pop of color and customization really makes it a great piece. I was able to get in touch with Heather, co-owner of 77 Chicago Merchants, and ask her a few questions about the store.
My first question was a simple one - "What does “77 Merchants Chicago” mean?"
“When coming up with a name for our shop, we knew we wanted something that was representative of Chicago as a whole. It was also important that it honored community, small business, and artistry. We chose the name 77 Merchants Chicago because the number ‘77’ is representative of the 77 neighborhoods in Chicago. The word ‘Merchants’ derived from the idea that we would have an exchange of goods between small businesses and artists from Chicago.”
Then I asked, "And how do you curate your pieces?"
“The majority of our items are hand-picked items from local second-hand resale shops. We are extremely careful that we are only bringing quality pieces into our shop. From there, we analyze every piece and see how it ‘speaks’ to us. We really try to identify the vibe each item gives off and bring it to life by upcycling each piece. Or sometimes, we love the item so much we sell it as is. As two women working 9-5 in healthcare, we try to curate practical modern pieces for the everyday advocate."
Heather continues, "Throughout the years we’ve recognized many shops produce advocacy merchandise that is simply unaffordable. It is our objective to keep our prices low because spreading awareness to social initiatives is far more valuable than our profits. In all, our shop promotes affordable sustainable living and social initiatives through creating upcycled unworn / gently used apparel and handcrafted quality goods. Each purchase supports a small artist and 10% of profits are donated to a non-profit to help our mission to uplift all 77 Chicago neighborhoods.”
You read that right. Each month the brand donates a percentage of its sales to a non-profit. Heather actually co-owns 77 Merchants Chicago with her twin sister and both of them work in the healthcare space and have specifically decided to work in service of the disenfranchised. That desire to uncover inequity in healthcare has no doubt seeped into their other gig, 77 Merchants Chicago.
We love the motivation for their shop and highly recommend you check out their website as well as browse TUSK and Eskell! Each shop's websites and Instagrams are listed below:
Website is here
77 Chicago Merchants
Website is here
What are some other local shops you love?