“Shop Small Wisconsin,” “Small Business Saturday,” and “Shop Local” campaigns focus on benefits of shopping at local small businesses

Small Business Saturday: Shop local, small businesses. It’s a win-win! Stock photo.


For the second consecutive year, Wisconsin Governor Evers made a “Shop Small Wisconsin” proclamation. This year, Nov. 26, 2022, through Dec. 31, 2022, is designated “Shop Small Wisconsin” across the state. This initiative encourages Wisconsinites to shop local and support Wisconsin’s Main Streets and small businesses during the holiday season.
Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) Secretary and CEO Missy Hughes recently toured a variety of small businesses, at various locations in the state to support small, locally-owned businesses, and kicked off the campaign.
Saturday, Nov. 26, was “Small Business Saturday,” a nationwide day drawing attention to small business owners and urging consumers to shop at their local small businesses.
And the Merrill Area Chamber of Commerce always advocates for residents to “Shop Local” whenever possible.

Small businesses benefit communities
All of these efforts remind shoppers that the long-term benefits to a community, as a result of shopping local and doing business with local companies, often far outweighs the short-term gratification of saving a couple of bucks by buying from the big-box stores or mega-sized online retailers.
Most small-town residents agree they enjoy visiting smaller businesses and shops, and that a thriving downtown business community with a lot of variety is important to them. When downtown businesses dwindle and residents are forced to drive to neighboring communities to shop, or when big-box stores or online retailers are the only option for shopping, they may grieve the loss of those small-town businesses with their personal touch and special connections, operated by their friends and neighbors, and the sense of community those small businesses provided.
With fewer options, the money saved by buying from big-box stores or online retailers can quickly get gobbled up by the cost of gas and shipping, the inconvenience of having to drive 20 minutes or more each way to shop, or waiting days or weeks for orders to arrive by mail, and the accompanying loss of their valuable time–which is certainly worth something, too. After all, time is the only commodity money can’t buy.
But the benefits of a thriving local small business community extend far beyond convenience.
“Thriving communities need healthy, successful business districts,” Hughes said. “Locally owned businesses not only provide jobs and investments in our communities, but they also help build a sense of place.”
“These businesses reflect the personality of their communities and give us places to connect and celebrate during the holidays and all year round,” she said.
That sense of place is critical to attract newcomers to a community. Many of these small, locally-owned businesses–whether boutiques, galleries, restaurants, coffee shops, or other attractions–are the community’s gathering places and help define the community’s culture. They may also offer more unique products and services, which also help define that culture.
Towns, cities, and neighborhoods–just like people–have a personality. And Merrill, like many other communities, is competing for those newcomers–for residents to live, work, and play here. Merrill needs newcomers who will own properties (and pay property taxes) or rent existing housing, to fill the needs of area businesses for more workers in almost every job field, to fill our schools and combat declining enrollment numbers, to frequent local businesses, and to become active, engaged, and vibrant members of our small city. It’s all interconnected and interdependent.

Main Street Bounceback Grants increase number of storefront businesses
Since they were first announced in April 2021, Main Street Bounceback Grants infused money into small businesses throughout the state of Wisconsin, including here in Merrill. At last count, more than 20 area businesses had received $10,000 Main Street Bounceback Grants to help fill Merrill-area storefronts and vacant business properties, helping to infuse new life into the area business community, and there are 5 more in the works, according to William Bialecki, Director of the Lincoln County Economic Development Corporation.
Across Wisconsin, entrepreneurs ready to take the leap into brick-and-mortar have benefited from the Main Street Bounceback Grant program. The $100 million program offers $10,000 grants to businesses and nonprofits that move into or expand into a currently vacant Wisconsin commercial property.
Originally announced in April 2021, the grant program has proven so popular that Governor Evers has twice added funding for the grants and extended the deadline for businesses to apply to Dec. 31. The grants are paid for by federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds.
For many entrepreneurs, this was an opportunity to turn a hobby into a business or a dream into reality, and an opportunity they just couldn’t pass up.
“Nearly 7,200 storefronts in all 72 Wisconsin counties are filled with vibrant and unique small businesses and non-profits this holiday season with the help of the Main Street Bounceback Grant,” a press release from the WEDC said.
According to a press release from Gov. Evers’ office in late Nov., “A recent analysis of state allocations under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) demonstrated that, as a share of federal aid received by states, Wisconsin is the top state in the country for aid directed to overall economic development and the top state in the country for aid directed to assist businesses.”
But while the Main Street Bounceback Grants provided the funding to get some new businesses going and out into vacant storefronts where they could be seen, many of those businesses now require the support of local customers to keep them actively engaged and growing. That happens when residents keep their business local, utilizing those businesses for the goods and services they require. Many of these businesses will also be working hard to expand their marketing efforts beyond the borders of Lincoln County and to develop new and sustainable markets for their products.

Holidays are crucial for local businesses
The holiday shopping season is a critical time for these and other local businesses, especially those involved in direct retail to consumer transactions, since the timeframe between Thanksgiving and Christmas is peak time for retail sales. Holiday retail sales can make or break a business, making up a large percentage of their annual retail sales.
The entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in Merrill, Wisconsin, and soon the community will be filled with the holiday spirit, as well. Why not let them walk hand-in-hand?
And for those folks who don’t want more STUFF to clutter up their homes, consider how you might combine supporting local small businesses with providing those people with a service they could use. Maybe they hate cleaning their house, or want to get into shape, or need a stump ground in the spring, or need help with their taxes or want to get their hair colored. Why not purchase a Merrill Chamber Gift Certificate in whatever denomination(s) desired that they can then use to employ a local service business to provide that service or use to put toward paying for that service with a local business anytime within the next year. Include a note outlining the purpose of the gift. Then the gift recipient can pick the Merrill area house cleaning service, or gym, or stump grinder, or accountant, or stylist of their choice and use it toward that purpose. And hey, even if they don’t like the proposed purpose of the gift, they can use it to buy coffee or baked goods or a snow shovel or a new outfit or whatever they wish at a Merrill area business.

Small businesses support communities
Small businesses support local and Wisconsin families, and those families make up our communities. In addition to supporting local businesses around the holidays, it’s also critical that local small businesses, non-profits, and service businesses receive ongoing, year-round support, if they are to stay in business and make it to the next holiday season, help the local community thrive long-term. and build and sustain a healthy local economy.
From retail stores and artistry shops, to restaurants and coffee shops, to small manufacturers and service businesses, small businesses employ nearly half of Wisconsin workers, according to Evers. And 2/3 of every $1 spent at a small business stays in the community, he said. Those small businesses are more likely to hire locally, buy supplies locally, and give back to our communities through their support of local youth, school, and charitable events and organizations, as well.
These are some things to consider when holiday shopping or doing business any time of the year.

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