Small businesses, big niche: Local retailers offer alternative to big-box rush for holiday shopping

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald A sign outside Once in Hilo Boutique Gallery describes what shopping locally can do for the community on Tuesday.

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Jasmine Hemon takes customer orders while working at Nector Cafe in Hilo on Tuesday.

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Artists Bob Newell and Emilia Cecilia take a moment to pose inside One Gallery while working in Hilo on Tuesday.

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Baha Ra poses for a photo next to his self-designed t-shirts inside Once in Hilo Boutique Gallery on Tuesday.

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Dustin Smith makes a latte while working at the Nector Cafe in Hilo on Tuesday.

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald From left, Poha Henson, Tracie Yoshimoto, Vicki Schulte and Carole Mae Makanui hold a Small Business Saturday banner while posing in the Most Irresistible Shop in Hilo on Tuesday.

Although some holiday shoppers have big plans, sometimes the best plans start by thinking — and shopping — small.

Created by American Express in 2010 during the midst of the so-called “Great Recession,” Small Business Saturday is always two days after Thanksgiving. For many, Small Business Saturday is a counterpoint to crowds clamoring for big-box doorbusters on Black Friday. It is also a counterpoint to the uncertainties of unseen or sold-out merchandise and dicey delivery dates occasionally encountered with online shopping.

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Tracie Yoshimoto owns The Most Irresistible Shop in Hilo and hopes more local customers will seek out small businesses for their holiday shopping.

“Last year was a challenge, and this year seems to be a different kind of challenge,” Yoshimoto said. “People tend to shop online, but when you go out and support a small business, you are getting unique customer service as well as products you can’t find in other places.”

The pandemic that brought long lines and socially distanced store floors last year has had a lingering effect this year with labor shortages and supply-chain issues.

“Just having survived through last year and now dealing with new challenges has been an interesting time for small businesses,” Yoshimoto said. “Having any support is much needed and local support is even greater.”

If more people shop locally and shop small, then businesses have a better chance at surviving — even thriving — according to Yoshimoto.

“If we don’t support each other then eventually small businesses won’t be here and that’s what makes the community unique,” Yoshimoto said. “The more money people spend at local businesses just recirculates locally.”

Mishi Chauberg owns Wild HeArtist and Nector Cafe in downtown Hilo and thinks more people should shop at small businesses to help their neighbors.

The shop and cafe support food, artwork and other wares from over 140 local vendors, so if someone decides to buy something, they are supporting one of those families, said Chauberg.

“Shopping locally has an even larger impact than some may realize,” Chauberg said. “When locals are the ones making money and they decide to support small businesses, then everything piles up and circles back into the community.”

Chauberg hopes more residents come downtown for their holiday shopping so they can help local vendors and the local economy.

“There are amazing places to go downtown and every little bit helps local artists,” Chauberg said. “We’re a small island, so if you feed the community it eventually comes back to you.”

With the holidays coming up, Chauberg thinks shopping locally could help people find unique gifts for friends and family.

“There are so many talented people making artwork and creating things that are so special,” Chauberg said. “You can always find something that you would not find anywhere else, so why go anywhere else?”

Baha Ra co-operates Once in Hilo Boutique Gallery on Kamehameha Avenue where he sells wares from local vendors as well as himself.

“We all need to support locally owned small businesses, especially in the age of corporate monopolies,” Ra said. “I think more people are spending money on local gifts and art, and I hope we are moving somewhere where every person can do so.”

Ra thinks more people should buy locally because they will find more unique wares, which have been created by a person living in the county or state.

“Things in big box stores and Amazon are made abroad and are made cheaply,” Ra said. “Locally made gifts are uniquely crafted with personality and soul. Each artist puts part of their life into their work.”

Emilia Cecilia works and displays art at One Gallery in downtown Hilo and hopes people shop local for the positive impact it can have on the economy and environment.

“I think shopping small is important because it keeps money in the local economy,” Cecilia said. “If you think about the ecosystem, labor practices, in all perspectives I think there are pros to shopping local.”

One Gallery is filled with art from over 70 island artists. Shoppers can purchase handcrafted pottery, paintings, jewelry, and other items to help the store and the displayed artists.

“Society would be a horrible place without art and so many people share their experiences through their art,” Cecilia said. “People come in here and are awestruck because we have a big group of artists, and it’s all different. You don’t find this type of stuff in big stores.”

If you’re ready for holiday shopping, many local shops will be participating in Small Business Saturday after the Thanksgiving holiday.

This weekend, the Firehouse Gallery in Waimea will be showcasing the annual Waimea Arts Council’s Founder’s Show from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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Gifts such as original paintings, photographs, hand-carved wood sculpture, original metal work, original glass work and other hand-made items will be available to shoppers.

Email Kelsey Walling at kwalling@hawaiitribune-herald.com