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How shopping local turns small purchases into a big deal for St. Louis

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Evie Hemphill
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St. Louis Public Radio
Shoppers stroll along Euclid Avenue in St. Louis’ Central West End on Small Business Saturday.

Bill Rodgers knows better than most just what buying a new sweater or scarf this time of year can mean — beyond the cozy beauty of the gift itself, that is. As an economist, he’s attuned to what he describes as a multiplier effect that begins the moment a retail transaction is complete.

“Think of throwing a pebble into a pond,” Rodgers, director of the Institute for Economic Equity at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, told St. Louis on the Air.

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Federal Reserve
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Bill Rodgers is the director of the Institute for Economic Equity at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

The shop owner who sold the item keeps some of the funds and also uses a good portion to pay staff, Rodgers explained. Then those staff members go to grocery stores to buy their food, and on and on. The waves from the initial “pebble” ripple outward in all sorts of ways that help uplift a community.

It’s easy, of course, to turn to the internet for such transactions. But the money from a sweater on Amazon? A lot of it goes to Amazon and its shareholders. And Jeff Bezos has yet to take up residence in Missouri.

“You’ll still have the multiplier effect, but it’s not going to be directly in St. Louis,” Rodgers said.

Local shopkeeper Debra Hunter sees the positive impacts of shopping small on a daily basis. The co-owner of Provisions St. Louis, Hunter sums up the biggest benefit in just one word: community.

Hunter and her husband, Ross, opened Provisions St. Louis in the Central West End neighborhood about three years ago. The world of brick-and-mortar shopping has seen more than its share of challenges since the shop’s debut. But the couple’s gift shop made it through the COVID-19 upheaval — and Hunter credits the local community for that success. She even describes her customers as partners.

“They pop in to see what we have new even if they’re not making a purchase that day,” Hunter said.

While she’s convinced the age of Amazon is here to stay, in her view, local retailers aren’t going anywhere, either.

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Debra Hunter
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The inside of Provisions St. Louis, in the Central West End neighborhood, is full of possibilities described as "necessary luxuries."

Last fall, Hunter was encouraged to see a collective effort to support small businesses during the holiday season. She’s hopeful that the momentum will continue.

“It’s that connection, that human connection,” Hunter said of what draws people to shops like hers. “And that is why I say we are brick-and-mortar first and foremost [despite also having an online shop]. Because let’s face it — we all are online, so much … and it can be very isolating.”

Community members joined the discussion as well, sharing local-shopping suggestions while out and about during Small Business Saturday and via St. Louis on the Air’s Facebook group.

Here are just a few of those listener-submitted ideas:

1. Explore the burgeoning pop-up-market scene

“The pop-up markets such as the one at City Foundry [and] at other venues are fantastic ways to see a wide variety of options … Union Studio, Bonboni, Lokey, Golden Gems, Civil Alchemy, Château Maplewood ... there’s a few others that just popped up next to the Webster Union Studio location,” Amanda wrote. “The list is practically endless.”

2. Stroll one of the region’s window-shopping-friendly streets

“Planet Score Records, Sole Survivor (handmade leather goods), and the Book House [are] all on Manchester in Maplewood within a short block,” noted Jay. And don’t forget the Delmar Loop, Cherokee Street and so many more.

3. You can’t go wrong in Webster Groves

From the Novel Neighbor and the Old Orchard Shopping Center to the KIND soap company, many listeners suggested spots in this community.

4. The Central West End and South Grand are shoo-ins

“All the stores on South Grand, but especially Zee Bee! Urban Matter has some gorgeous gifts, too,” wrote Rene.

5. Don’t forget to explore the quirky treasures

What about making the most of SweetArt Bakeshop & Cafe’s new lineup of cake mixes and icing, as Sarah suggested on Facebook? And don’t forget to shop for the pets on your holiday list. Mimi suggested checking out the Wagamama in south St. Louis, along Macklind. “So many cute and fun gifts for pet parents,” she wrote. “You can shop with your pet and grab a cup of coffee.”

Shopping small can mean big things for St. Louis — and there’s plenty of places to do so
Listen as we talk with Debra Hunter, Bill Rodgers and community members.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Evie is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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