Business leaders urge people to ‘shop small’ this holiday season

  • YOSHIOKA

‘Tis the season — to shop small.

Although Small Business Saturday falls on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, island business leaders are encouraging people to shop locally throughout the holiday season as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on.

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Mark Brown, director of the East Hawaii Small Business Development Center, said the center is focusing on a season-long “shop small” campaign.

“The challenge, I think, all the local small businesses face is there are various degrees of people who are open,” and differing numbers of people who are permitted to enter each store because of the COVID safety restrictions.

Brown said the center is helping its clients promote themselves virtually, and is encouraging people who shop online to consider doing that shopping with local retailers.

Brown said tourism is the largest part of the economy and not having that traffic — which has declined dramatically because of the pandemic — has been challenging for the center’s clients.

The SBDC also is working with a number of businesses on “how to pivot what they do.”

Among those efforts, for example, Brown said the SBDC has used federal coronavirus relief money to provide training for local businesses about how to establish a more visible digital presence.

The center also has offered training on social media marketing.

But small businesses are the backbone of the economy, Brown said, and a high percentage of Big Island jobs come from small businesses.

“Those are the folks that are going to lead us out of this economic challenge.”

But challenging times have a way of bringing out the best in people, Brown said.

“I’m always impressed by how well people here care for each other. I think that this holiday season is just another example of how to demonstrate that. … By choosing to do something like getting a meal from a local restaurant or gift from a local store, you’re helping take care of your neighbor, and I think that’s important right now.”

American Express launched the first Small Business Saturday in 2010 to bring more holiday shopping to small businesses.

The credit card company this year is encouraging folks to show support for small businesses, in-store and online, throughout the entire holiday season.

The Hawaii Island Chamber of Commerce first got involved in the Small Business Saturday initiative in 2017.

In previous years, chamber members would canvas downtown Hilo to share information and promotional materials about Small Business Saturday.

However, HICC Executive Officer Miles Yoshioka said the group won’t be doing that this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“For us, there’s been a big pivot with COVID,” he said. “Our chamber has been putting out weekly email blasts to over 1,000 email addresses, encouraging our members to support each other.”

Yoshioka said those efforts will continue throughout the rest of the year.

A majority of the businesses are small, local businesses that hire local people, he said.

“For a lot of them, it has been a pivot, changing marketing strategies,” Yoshioka said. “But now more than ever, our community needs to realize it’s these local businesses that have been there for the community through tough times and good. Whenever organizations need … donations or people to sit on their boards, it’s been the local business community that has stepped up. So more than ever now, these local businesses need our support, and our community can make a big difference in the months ahead, especially as we head toward the Christmas season.

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“Really, the importance of buying local during these times, if you can afford it, really can’t be understated.”

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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