Dec 1, 2021 - Business

The biggest local shopping season yet

People crowd around tents and vendors at Shopapalooza 2021.
Shopapalooza 2021. Photo: Rob Moorman/Moorman Photographics

This holiday season, one thought might count the most: where you get your gifts.

Why it matters: After many consumers chose online shopping over brick and mortar stores during the pandemic, small business owners are counting on this holiday season like never before.

State of play: LocalShops1 founder Ester Venouziou, who runs Shopapalooza, tells Axios this year's holiday festival doubled its 2019 attendance after the 2020 event was canceled.

  • She estimates about 30,0000 people shopped locally on Saturday alone at the weekend festival in downtown St. Petersburg.
  • Many of the 300 vendors told her it was their best sales weekend in about a decade β€” maybe ever.

Her theory: "People are tired of being cooped up and buying everything online," Venouziou says.

  • "People were wondering, 'Why do we have so much loyalty to big box stores that don't care about our community and don't care about us?' During a crisis we all go back to basics and evaluate our lives and see what matters."

But, but, but: Just because sales are up doesn't mean local businesses are thriving.

  • 78% of small-business owners surveyed by American Express in October said this year's holiday sales will make or break them for 2022.
  • "It's tough for a lot of businesses still," Venouziou says. "A lot of them have been hanging on and they're going to see how this shopping season goes."

The obstacles: Even businesses that source locally are contending with 2021's supply chain problems. Lori Budnick, who makes jewelry stamped with occasionally explicit phrases for BadAss Baubles, sold out of all her "f*ck" jewelry at Shopapalooza.

  • "There was not a single f*ck left, and I bring a lot of it."
  • But she's taking a hit by waiting to increase her prices until after the holidays since her supply costs have doubled and tripled.

What she's saying: "Supply chains have been crazy. I've been having to make different things than I normally do because I can't get certain items, so I have to make up new things. It's time to be creative."

  • Staffing is also a huge problem for brick and mortars. Some businesses who wanted to participate in Shopapalooza told Venouziou they couldn't because there was no one to staff their stores over the weekend.

Venouziou's bottom line: Shop local all year round.

  • "Often there's a local solution for everything you pick up as an afterthought at the local grocery store."

Go deeper: Check out our holiday gift guide to shopping local.

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