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Economy & Business

‘Keep It Local’ Campaign Urges Holiday Shoppers To Support St. Louis’ Small Businesses

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Joan Fisher
An employee at Webster Groves-based boutique Civil Alchemy shows off a brochure about the "Keep It Local" campaign. It's offering discounts to more than 150 local businesses to encourage shoppers to buy locally this holiday season.

As a consumer, Drea Ranek knows it’s really easy to turn to Amazon to buy holiday gifts. It’s simple, shipping is free, and it’s a low-risk option as the coronavirus pandemic worsens.

“But as a businessperson, it’s so hard for us to compete with really big businesses that can make things convenient,” said the owner of Clayton-based apparel boutiques Lusso and 2Lu.

Ranek said 20 years in business at Lusso has helped her develop a loyal customer base to keep her going during the pandemic. But she said many newer businesses are struggling.

That’s why she’s helping spearhead a new campaign, dubbed “Keep It Local” to help persuade shoppers to support St. Louis’ small retailers and makers, whether that’s online or in person.

“You can’t compete with the fact that people are fearful to shop in person. They don't want to get sick. It’s understandable,” she said. “What we’ve been doing is trying to meet people where they are and how they want to shop.”

Ranek is working with organizations including 314Together, the Women’s Creative, Experience Booklet and Joya on a series of marketing efforts and cash giveaways to sweeten the deal for holiday shoppers.

People are encouraged to buy a $30 virtual card that offers discounts to more than 150 local businesses, which can be used through next March. Proceeds of those cards go directly to Operation Food Search. Ranek said in the first week the campaign sold 350 cards, raising more than $11,000 for the organization combating food insecurity in the region.

The campaign is also giving away cash to shoppers choosing to buy locally. Each weekend, three participating shoppers are selected to receive either a $500 or $1,000 gift card. The campaign also deploys a street team on Saturdays to find shoppers at small businesses and give them $100 cash or a Schnucks gift card.

The campaign raised $12,500 in cash from corporate sponsors — including Schnucks, Carrollton Bank, Ameren, Purina and Budweiser Select — to provide the giveaways.

Ranek said any small businesses can still join the campaign.

“Our heart goes out to all retailers this time of year. Fourth quarter is really — December — is where a lot of retailers make their business for the whole year,” she said.

‘It’s not always the easy way’

St. Charles-based quilt maker Linda Caplinger has already felt an uptick in sales because of her participation in the campaign.

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Bee Hygge
Linda Caplinger, owner of Bee Hygge, holds up her handmade quilt design. She said her business got off to a rocky start in February, but sales are picking up during the colder months.

She struggled to pivot her self-described cozy lifestyle brand, Bee Hygge, after launching in February because she was banking on selling her wares at large craft markets.

“When those were canceled, I just kind of deflated. I was like ‘Oh, now what?’” she said.

Caplinger is a part of the Women’s Creative, which she said has been a critical support system for small- business owners like herself trying to figure out how to pivot during the pandemic.

She said her participation in the campaign is more about supporting that network of small, women-owned businesses than trying to draw in new clients.

“I just got so worried that people would be sitting at home and shopping — ‘Oh, I can get everything I need at Amazon, and it’s free shipping,’” she said.

“It made me think about — it’s not always the easy way, it’s the right way. And the right thing to do, now and always, is to shop local.”

The “Keep It Local” campaign is highlighting many individual makers who don’t have the resources to market to consumers beyond their Instagram and Etsy accounts.

That includes 21-year-old A’iesha Rooks. She launched her business, Fifteen Dreams, in May when she was on furlough from her bartending job.

Now, she sells a mix of antiques, vintage clothing and candle-filled flat top beer cans. Rooks heard about the “Keep It Local” campaign through the Women's Creative, which helped her land a spot at her first pop-up market last month.

“I myself in the past am really guilty of not being more of a local shopper because I’m from Granite City, Illinois. So it’s a lot of Walmart,” she said. “There aren’t local grocery stores and things like that, so it wasn’t something that was in my head.”

Rooks said becoming a local business owner herself opened her eyes to just how many people across the St. Louis region run small businesses and the importance of keeping them afloat.

She still picks up bartending shifts for now, but Rooks starts business school next month and hopes it will allow her to pursue Fifteen Dreams full time.

Follow Corinne on Twitter: @corinnesusan

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