A slight breeze passed through as Matt Caputo looked around at the businesses surrounding him in Salt Lake City's 15th and 15th District.
A worker was in the middle of hanging lights by Mazza, a local Middle Eastern restaurant across the street, while a mother with her children walked into Tulie Bakery behind Caputo. Not long after, a man walked out of Caputo's Market & Deli holding two bags of food and a drink in his hands. It was relatively busy on this Wednesday morning before Thanksgiving.
This is the scene that Caputo wants to see. He says many local retailers operate at a loss throughout most of the year and these next few weeks make or break small businesses.
"Each and every year I'm faced with the reality that if we have a bad holiday season, everything my dad built, everything that I've worked for over the last quarter century could go up in smoke," he said.
But a good holiday season? That doesn't just keep businesses afloat; it can help small businesses to provide benefits to their employees.
Caputo knows this because he says his market's three locations have had good holiday seasons in recent years.
"It's how we've provided health insurance to all our crew. It's how we're able to start offering 401(k)s this year," he added. "It's how, in 2022 and beyond, we're going to make sure that everyone who works for us can afford a place to live near where they work. When you shop at a local business, you're not just increasing shareholder returns, you're ensuring your neighbors — the people who serve your food, that brew your coffee — you're ensuring that they have a decent standard of living."
As Black Friday and Cyber Monday approach, a time where millions upon millions of dollars will be spent at major retailers across the country, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall is urging people to skip the chaos and participate in Small Business Saturday instead.
She says buying local has an impact on the community surrounding every small business. First, there are the employees who can receive important benefits, like health care and retirement in Caputo's case. A little more than half of every dollar spent buying products at local businesses stays within the community, Mendenhall added, citing a 2013 Civic Economics study. That, she pointed out, is compared to 13 cents from every dollar spent at a big-box store.
"Not only does 55 cents stay here in our local economy, but these locally owned, independent businesses contribute to charities at three times the rate per customer dollar spent," she said. "So they're reinvesting in our community, helping build prosperity and security for Salt Lakers and Utahns. There are a million reasons to shop local."
Want another reason to buy local this year? You can be entered to win a $500 local shopping spree.
Buy local, win $500 to spend locally
Local First Utah, an independent business alliance promoting the state's small businesses, came up with an idea to direct people to local businesses after the pandemic hit. It is hosting the "Shop Small Crawl" for the second-straight year. On Saturday, if you purchase something at one of about 40 participating local stores in Utah, you can enter to win a $500 prize that can be spent at the participating stores in Salt Lake City, Midvale, Moab and Ogden, or through online ordering.
Customers can enter by going to any of the participating businesses, where they can scan a QR code through a customer rewards loyalty app called Localight.
"It's one of the only programs like it in the country," said Kristen Lavelett, the executive director of Local First Utah.
The importance of buying local this year
This holiday season figures to be an interesting shopping season from previous years. Supply chain shortages and inflation are impacting businesses and consumers alike.
Mendenhall views small business shopping as a solution to some of the troubles in the market. She asserted that local businesses can offer thoughtful, one-of-a-kind gifts; they can also recommend gifts that match the interests of the people customers are shopping for. On top of that, you can get the gift now instead of hoping it arrives on time for the holidays — something in jeopardy again this season due to supply shortages.
"You can shop door to door at local businesses who have unique, beautiful gifts that don't take two to three months to get here on a ship that's circling somewhere in the ocean," the mayor said.
Ultimately, shopping local comes down to what it means for small business owners and employees and the influence it brings back to the community, Lavelett added. About 95% of businesses in the state are considered small businesses, she said.
Local First Utah was created in 2006 by one of the owners of The King's English bookstore, also in the 15th & 15th District and another one of the participating businesses in the $500 prize, as a way for independent businesses to connect with one another and the Utah community.
After the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the economy, some of Utah's small businesses have recovered while others have closed. Some developed a larger e-commerce presence while some created ways for shoppers to browse through stores safely. As the supply chain issues emerged, Lavelett said many local businesses have strong personal relationships with the producers of the products they sell that have helped them overcome the issues.
"You're going to get different answers depending on who you're talking to. By and large, independent business owners are some of the most tenacious, innovative people. They will figure out a solution," Lavelett said. "That's what we've seen through the pandemic."
Saturday's Shop Small Crawl and $500 prize aims to give small businesses a little more help but the group won't stop after the holiday season ends. Lavelett said Local First Utah will launch a campaign called Resolve To Buy Locally, a New Year's resolution with the goal of changing consumer behavior by having consumers think locally before shopping online when possible.
As for the upcoming holiday shopping season, Caputo says he understands why people go to big-box retailers and e-commerce giants first. It can be cheaper or more convenient in some cases, especially when you can buy something without even getting out of bed. He contends that Utahns don't have to skip big businesses altogether but asks that they consider mixing in a local store or two, as well, this holiday season and beyond.
"Shifting a small percentage of your holiday shopping can make all the difference for your neighbors," he said. "If you can't get to it this Saturday, we'll take it whenever you can. Please, this holiday season, think about local businesses. It makes a big difference for us."