What 2020 Makes Us Appreciate About Local Retail
Two years (i.e. a million years) ago, as I found myself buying artisan earrings at distilleries and locally made socks at farmer’s markets, I declared 2018 the year of too many holiday pop-ups and explored what might be next for small retail brands that had come to rely on shopping events to launch or even sustain their businesses.
Pandemic did not make my list of scenarios.
But here we sit in our sweatpants at the end of a year that will claim as many as 25,000 stores, craving those moments where gift buying becomes an event—wanting to shop local, but unsure where to go. No one is popping. What few holiday popups had been scheduled this season—the European Christmas Market at Union Depot; Chriskindlmarket in Excelsior, the Collective at Galleria—have been cancelled due to the recent spike in Covid-19 cases.
Shopping small is all about discovery and experience. Sipping hot cider while browsing booths and meeting the artisans who make the goods you didn’t know you needed but suddenly feel excited to give to everyone on your list because they come with a story. The call for quarantining at a time of year when the experience of shopping feels as festive as the act of giving itself is a blow to our collective psyche, and certainly a hardship for our neighborhood retailers and the many small, independent brands they showcase—especially in these critical last weeks of the year that often sustain these indie businesses through the winter.
But even in the best of times, going into retail requires a baseline of optimism, creativity, and a survivor’s instinct. So this year has pushed small retailers to get even better at service, convenience and selection. It’s prompted them to upgrade technology that will make them more competitive long after a vaccine. And it’s forced them to make hard decisions that will probably set them up to be more profitable in the long run—whether that’s closing an underperforming location or editing their assortment.
Likewise for consumers, video chatting with a storeowner who is willing to to walk you around the store virtually (hello, Patina, General Store of Minnetonka, Kiddywampus, and Mischief Toy, to name a few) and make suggestions or deliver a gift (wrapped) on short notice, has reminded us what’s special about shopping local, and how much our purchasing decisions matter on a human level. So before you resign yourself to ordering whatever is easy and available on Amazon, here are a few of the reasons to believe in shopping local, and some easy ways to do just that—even from your couch.
New and improved e-commerce experiences
The pandemic prompted many local retailers, who long focused on store experience as their best defense against Amazon, to step up their e-commerce game. Patina, Golden Rule, Primp, Urban Undercover—just a few of the local companies here in the Twin Cities to invest in new and improved websites that make it easier to browse and order online. Brightwater Clothing & Gear owner Bill Damberg took a group of local photographers and influencers to Bayfield, Wisconsin to model the Excelsior boutique’s winter collection. The result is a beautiful digital Look Book that shows its parkas, ski sweaters, gear and more out in the elements in a way that will inspired both your wardrobe, and winter adventures. Another neighborhood retailer, Kristofer Bowman, made the difficult decision to close Show & Tell MPLS and focus on his original Grand Marais store Upstate MN, but if you can’t make the trek, you can get the full experience—complete with gorgeous Lake Superior images and a fresh assortment of gifts, on the updated website.
Look no further than the windows of MartinPatrick 3, all dressed up with shiny snowflakes and sparkly sugar plum fairies straight out of the Nutcracker. In a year without holiday theater, North Loop’s landmark store partnered with the Minnesota Dance Theatre to bring the show to life in displays that can be enjoyed from a car, or at a distance on the sidewalk. For those who do go in—or call in a curbside pickup order—MartinPatrick 3 is selling Nutcracker ornaments and donating 100 percent of the proceeds to the theater’s CAN Dance program that covers tuition costs for aspiring dancers who may not otherwise be able to attend. Likewise, Mall of America’s Community Commons project, offering free space to minority owned brands that have been displaced or had businesses disrupted by events of 2020 offers inspired shopping, and a partnership that likely wouldn’t have happened in a typical year.
Curbside pickup is the surprise shopping hit of the pandemic. Why? For one, we’re often too impatient even for next day delivery. But also, I think we’re looking for ways to connect, and driving to local places, even if we can’t go in, still adds an element of intimacy to a purchase (and makes us feel like we’re doing something right now!). A few to try:
Walker Shop: The museum is closed, but the Walker Art Center’s popular store is open online where you can browse by artist or by category, including one dedicated to Minnesota makers. Curbside pickup is available on select days or order online for delivery any time.
Great Lakes: The apparel company inspired by lake living has become a holiday fixture at malls, but not this year. Instead, the local company has turned its Northeast Minneapolis office into a holiday shop.
General Store of Minnetonka: Let this expert team do the work, assembling a gift box based on your description of the recipient, and take home baked goods from the store’s popular café. It’s the 2020 version of shopping and lunch.
Galleria: The Edina shopping center is offering “Galleria To Go” same day delivery service through Dec. 24 within a 12-mile radius, with qualifying purchases of $200 or more.
You can get the popup experience on your own screen this year. You’ll have to provide the cider, but it’s never been easier to shop local online. Here are a few destinations for Minnesota-made goods:
The Collective by Lab MPLS: They cancelled the Galleria shopping center popup featuring 40 local brands, but you can window shop some of the goods at Galleria, and link directly to each brand—a great way to discover new local options.
Homespun Gifts + Decor: This south Minneapolis store which features local brands is popping up at Southdale, Ridgedale and Eden Prairie Centers for the holidays, but you can also shop the collection of Minnesota-made puzzles, games, t-shirts, and more online.
Urban Rooster: This new website started by a couple of former Target execs features Minnesota makers selling everything from games and puzzles to candles, apparel, and soaps.
Meda’s Marketplace: How’s this for feel good shopping—In place of the annual fundraising gala, Meda is hosting its first ever online marketplace. Shop gift cards from local restaurants, spirits from local distilleries, experiences at local attractions and more, and proceeds support Meda’s mission to help minority-led business enterprise.
Six for Good: A collective of six local, women owned brands with stores at Rosedale and 50th & France also features its jewelry, apparel, bath and beauty products and more online.
Grand Collective: Is it still a pop-up after a one-year anniversary? “Extended pop-up” is what organizer Patric Richardson calls the shop at 791 Grand Avenue in St. Paul. You can’t shop it online, but you can be sure of a small, controlled experience and several new vendors just added, including Worker B., Essence One and Larissa Loden.
Who opens new stores in the midst of a pandemic? Local retailers! See Nolan Mains, the new 50th & France development where Six for Good, Flirtt, and Stranger & Co are now open. (A first foray into brick and mortar for Stranger & Co). Check out Fox Run, a marketplace featuring 25 local brands, at Shoppes at Arbor Lakes. Northern Drift, a preppy, Minnesota-inspired apparel brand, opened a holiday shop in downtown Wayzata.
They just keep iterating. And if we want our Mainstreets filled with lights and noises and smells and experiences on the other side of this pandemic—as well as the dollars these small businesses keep in the local economy—we need to make the extra effort to support our small retailers. They’re giving us so many options, there’s really no excuse.
Get more local shopping inspiration from our sister publication, Mpls.St.Paul Magazine.