This Year, More Than Ever, Support Small Business Saturday

Small businesses may not survive this pandemic without your help.

On the front of Nord

Lloyd Alter

Small Business Saturday was started in the midst of the Great Recession of 2010 as a promotion by American Express "to encourage people to Shop Small and bring more holiday shopping to small businesses." Treehugger hopped on it early because the big box stores were sucking the life out of our Main Streets; as the National Trust for Historic Preservation's President Stephanie Meeks wrote in support:

"When we invest in small businesses, we are investing in Main Streets - the places that give our towns and cities a unique sense of place. By celebrating Small Business Saturday and shopping at independent businesses, everyone can play a part in strengthening our economy and supporting revitalization on our Main Streets."

Then the online Death Star hit, and things got even worse; Derek Thompson wrote in the Atlantic:

"Online shopping has digitized a particular kind of business – mostly durable, nonperishable, and tradable goods – that one used to seek out in department stores or similar establishments. Their disappearance has opened up huge swaths of real estate."
Dave's sign
Lloyd Alter

And now we have the COVID-19 pandemic which has caused a total meltdown, a retail apocalypse. According to Yelp's economic survey,

"As of August 31, 163,735 total U.S. businesses on Yelp have closed since the beginning of the pandemic (observed as March 1), a 23% increase since July 10. In the wake of COVID-19 cases increasing and local restrictions continuing to change in many states we’re seeing both permanent and temporary closures rise across the nation, with 60% of those closed businesses not reopening (97,966 permanently closed)."

Restaurants lead the pack with 32,109 closures, 61% of which are permanent. Retail and shopping follow with 30,374 closures, 58% of which are permanent. With the second wave hitting hard, it is likely that the permanent closures will increase; as retailers have noted, it is one thing to be closed in March or April but being shut down in November and December is nearly impossible to survive.

Governments are no help and in many cases, are making the situation worse; in Ontario, Canada, new lockdown rules close small businesses but allow big box stores to stay open. The owner of a clothing boutique that does half of its annual business in November and December tells the Globe and Mail:

"'This is actually terrifying,' owner Meg Watson said. 'It doesn’t seem like it’s really about health when there are other huge stores packed with 60 people in them. ... You’re closing me and letting Walmart open?'"

Meanwhile, Amazon has become a pandemic giant, with a 37% increase in earnings for the third quarter. Jeff Bezos is quoted saying that the company was seeing “more customers than ever shopping early for their holiday gifts, which is just one of the signs that this is going to be an unprecedented holiday season." Online spending increased as much in the first half of 2020 as it did in the previous five years.

It Doesn't Have To Be This Way

15-minute city
15-minute city.  Paris en Commun

Back in March, Richard Florida described in Brookings the challenges facing our Main Streets:

"The restaurants, bars, specialty shops, hardware stores, and other mom and pop shops that create jobs and lend unique character to our cities are at severe economic risk right now. Some projections suggest that as many as 75% of them may not survive the current crisis. The loss of our Main Street businesses would be irreparable, and not just for the people whose livelihoods depend on them, but for cities and communities as a whole. The places that have protected their Main Streets will have a decisive competitive advantage as we return to normalcy."

In fact, when we make it to the other side of this crisis, it may be more than a return to normalcy; it may be a return to vibrancy like we haven't seen in years.

In the face of the climate crisis, people are talking about the 15-minute city, where work, home, shops, entertainment, education, and health care are all within a 15-minute walking radius.The C40 Mayors note that "the presence of nearby amenities, such as healthcare, schools, parks, food outlets and restaurants, essential retail and offices, as well as the digitalisation of some services, will enable this transition."

In the face of the coronavirus crisis, many more people are working from home, and it is likely that about half of them will stay there or at local satellite offices. They will need places to go out for lunch, to shop, to get the services they need to work. We are in the middle of a workplace revolution, and it could lead to a Main Street revolution too.

All of this brings us back to shopping small and supporting Small Business Saturday and the Shop Small campaign all year round. We have to help our neighborhood businesses so that they can make it to the other side and keep employing our kids and our neighbors in the face of the online assault; as Michael Shuman wrote in "The Smallmart Revolution":

"It means nurturing locally owned businesses which use local resources sustainably, employ local workers at decent wages and serve primarily local consumers. It means becoming more self-sufficient and less dependent on imports."

It reduces your carbon footprint and promotes walkable urbanism; As Alex Steffen wrote:

"There is a direct relationship between the kinds of places we live, the transportation choices we have, and how much we drive. The best car-related innovation we have is not to improve the car, but eliminate the need to drive it everywhere we go."

It can save your life, if it gets you out walking. I have quoted Dr. David Alter (no relation) who studied the benefits of walking:

"Our findings demonstrate that physical activity (both recreational and non-recreational) is associated with a lower risk for mortality and major CVD events, which was independent of the type of physical activity and other risk factors. ... Even meeting the physical activity guidelines such as walking for as little as 30 minutes on most days of the week had a substantial benefit."

It keeps you young. Another study noted:

"Gerontologists and sports physicians at Goethe University Frankfurt have examined the effects of regular exercise on brain metabolism and memory of 60 participants aged between 65 and 85 in a randomised controlled trial. Their conclusion: regular physical exercise not only enhances fitness but also has a positive impact on brain metabolism."
Small business Saturday

There are so many reasons to Shop Small and to support Small Business Saturday, and this year, because of the coronavirus crisis and its economic fallout, it is more important than ever. My colleague Katherine Martinko has been doing this in her town and claims it's faster than Amazon Prime. I am going to give the last words to her:

"I'm realizing that if it's possible to support local 'Main Street' businesses at a time like this, it's possible to support them anytime. We really need to stop making excuses for why ordering stuff online from faraway corporations is a better option than going to nearby business owners.
I challenge readers to try to provide for their needs by sourcing items from within their own communities. Before logging on to Amazon, take a moment to ask yourself which local stores might sell those same products, and then reach out with an inquiry. Give it a try; it's deeply satisfying."
View Article Sources
  1. "Yelp: Local Economic Impact Report". Yelp Economic Average, 2020.

  2. Jones, Dow. "Amazon Sales Surge Amid Pandemic-Driven Online Shopping". Morningstar.Com, 2020.