October 9, 2020

Thinking about small business in Madison and beyond in 2020

Eric with Shop Small Merchandise

 At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, it sometimes felt like we had all the time in the world. There was little work, no school, no social obligations, and nowhere to go because everything was closed. Here seven months into this thing, it feels a lot different. Now, it feels more like all the old pressures of life have returned, only we get to navigate them in a world where everything is harder. The economy is more uncertain, the political situation is….stressful, even acquiring food for my family can be a harrowing adventure. I'm educating two young children from my dining room and writing this at 5:30 am. I'm sure you too have a hundred examples of ways that the pandemic has challenged, frustrated, and on some days, outright defeated you. I hear that. This is hard.

 The pressure to make some things easier so that we have the energy to deal with the truly, inescapably difficult aspects of the world today is real. So, even as a person who lives and breathes small business, the reality is that I'm also a working mom with a working partner. So of course I order things from Amazon sometimes. Or Target. Or whoever has the thing in stock that I need that will keep me from having to leave my house. 

But the longer this pandemic drags on, the more I hear about friends, former colleagues and just places I love in Madison closing down, the more I realize that those shops and restaurants closing are not just losses for the owners and staff of those establishments. They're losses for vendors who supply them, for the accountants and lawyers who served them, and for the customers who patronized them. For all of us, these losses are emotional and economic.

Small businesses create jobs. Fortune Favors (then Nutkrack) started as two part-time, paid employees just two and a half years ago, and now we have twelve people working for the business. That's because of your support. And your neighbor's support. And the shop down the street's support. Because of all of you, twelve of us can take the money we make at Fortune Favors and spend it elsewhere in town. That directly helps keep other businesses of all sizes here in Madison afloat too, and allows those employees to spend their money at yet more local businesses.  For every $100 you spend at a local, independent business, $68 of it stays in your town. For every $100 you spend at a huge multinational chain? Only $43 stays. [1]

Madison is indescribably lucky to have the hard-working, passionate, and creative entrepreneur community it does. Your town too likely has a vibrant, seemingly indefatigable community of makers and business owners who help drive the local economy. These people are a force. We as consumers have access to so many cool, awesome, niche products that are made nearby, and I for one, am grateful for it (see a list of some of my go-to gifts at the end of this post). I want to live in a place where good ideas and hard work are rewarded by the community. Where we pull together when times are tough and think through the good of the many, not just what's most expedient today. 

As you begin to think about your holiday gift-giving this year, I implore you to think about what you'd like to support with your money. What values are important to you? What businesses do you want to still see thriving a year from now? What creative gifts can you give or discoveries can you share that keep your money close to home, and don't instead make a billionaire a tiny bit richer?

 So many small businesses have done truly inspiring work this year, using creativity and innovation to make online and/or contactless ordering easier, safer, and more reliable than ever before. Many shops you'd normally have stopped into on December 15th now have a robust online presence, and are ready to serve you in ways that make you and their staff comfortable. Many will even deliver to your house very inexpensively. If you haven't checked in on any of your favorite local places in a while, now's the time. Give them a call. Check their Facebook page. Shopping small and shopping local don't necessarily mean more expensive products and longer wait times than bigger retailers. But shopping small and local DOES mean that your money stays local, gets multiple reuses locally, and supports your neighbors.

If this pandemic has taught us anything, let it be that our community's health and success is intimately intertwined with our own. A rising tide raises all boats they say, so hop in and let's keep rowing together.

Jess's Go-To Madison-based gifts!

*Well of course, everyone who knows me in real life gets more Fortune Favors than they can handle. I’m the #1 brand ambassador! YOU'RE WELCOME. But for real, we offer scrumptious, locally made candied pecans.

*Gail Ambrosius Chocolatier: Truffles? The best sea salt caramels around? Heck yeah.

*CocoVaa: It's true, my chocolate loyalties are split. But is there even such a thing as too much incredible chocolate? Thought not.

*Zip-Dang: Shirts! Glasses! Home and leather goods! Jewelry! Stickers! Weird stuff you definitely won't find anywhere else! I love this shop SO. MUCH.

*Green Life Trading Company: New to the Willy St. neighborhood, this cute, eco-friendly shop offers everything you need to keep your home clean, green and very stylish. 

Jess's Go-To Anywhere gifts!

*Etsy: If you're not already buying unique handmade gifts on Etsy, now is the time to start. You can narrow your searches easily to be sure you're buying from local makers, Black-owned shops, woman-owned shops, whatever's important to you. You can also get things custom-made for those hard-to-buy-for folks in your life.

*Brin's Jam: This company is out of Brooklyn. Their cherry chai jam is simply out of this world.

*Mayana Chocolate Bars: Yes, again with the chocolate. Who doesn't like to get chocolate? And these small-batch, BIG taste candy bars are made in Spooner, WI. The Kitchen Sink bar is SO. DARN. GOOD. I may or may not order them by the case. Don't judge.

*Experiences: Snag a gift certificate to a local (outdoor) eatery or a photographer whose work you like. They get to keep the money and your recipient comes away with a nice memory. 

Written by Jess Benish, Chief Operating Officer
October 2020