Business Leaders, Retailers Urging Shoppers to Embrace Local Stores

    LANSING (Capital News Service) — Michigan business officials and retailers are renewing their calls for shoppers to embrace local shopping   

    Shopping on Main Street, instead of fighting crowds at big-box stores, means more this year because of the lingering effects of COVID-19 and the ongoing effects of the supply chain crisis, said Otie McKinley, the media and communications manager for the Michigan Economic Development Corp.

    It’s not just a Small Business Saturday kind of concern. 

    “As we come out of the pandemic, people buying local is not just about the upcoming holiday gift season,” McKinley said. “It’s about supporting local businesses whenever you can, that has an incredible impact on the local economy of the community and a direct impact on that small business.”

    Scrolls Unlimited in Cheboygan is still looking to unload inventory left from when retailers closed their physical locations during the pandemic, said Laura Derk, the co-founder of Scrolls Unlimited.

    Many suppliers that stayed in business after the pandemic are dealing with excess inventory. They hope a strong Christmas season from local shoppers will get their businesses back on track, said Derk, whose company makes full-sized scrolls with religious verses, Christmas stories and name-meanings being the most popular options.

    “I think people have to go through hard times to really appreciate the people who are there all the time,” Derk said. “A lot of the time we take locals for granted and they are usually the harder workers.”

    While the company tries to move inventory, the nationwide supply chain crisis has increased the costs of making new items or custom orders. Every item from paper to cardboard to the wooden dowels at the end of the scrolls has gone up dramatically in price, Derk said.

    “The price of them is kind of ridiculous,” Derk said. “We went from paying probably $2 to $3 dollars a dowel and now it’s up to $6, so it’s more than doubled from what we normally have paid for a wood product.”  

    Tim Beyerlein, who makes handcrafted nativity stables in Sturgis, also has seen production costs rocket. Prices more than doubled for everything from wood to nails with little to no explanation from his suppliers, he said

    “I use a lot of stain,” Beyerlein said. “I was paying $16 a gallon and it went up over 100% to $34-$35 a gallon.”

    Even though these costs dig into profits, Beyerlein said he isn’t a Scrooge and hasn’t raised his prices yet.

    Both companies rely on American-made products, which are easier to get. This means that shoppers might have better luck finding products at local stores that specialize in Christmas than at major retailers. 

    Walmart and Target were caught off guard by a nationwide supply chain crisis. Some economic forecasters wonder if big-box stores have enough inventory to last until Christmas.

    Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland, which bills itself as the world’s largest Christmas store, in Frankenmuth, has kept shelves stock. 

    That’s because they research trends and talk with suppliers throughout the year to provide products in July as well as December, said Tammy Hall, the salesroom merchandise manager for Bronner’s.

    “We sell everything from tabletop Christmas trees to ornaments and collectibles.” Hall said. “You name it, we have it.” 

    Bronner’s seeks products made in America — the most popular are personalized ornaments and handcrafted goods, Hall said.

    Shipping delays and rising supply line costs have led local shops and specialty stores like Bronner’s to stock more Michigan-made products. Local products are more profitable because of reduced shipping fees and more foot traffic because of increased interest in buying local, McKinley said. 

    “Being from Michigan isn’t just a physical designation,” McKinley said. “Being from Michigan is in people’s hearts, and the made-in Michigan moniker evokes a connection to the goods or the services they’re looking to purchase. There’s a pride and a sense of community when you are supporting Michigan small business.”

    Looking for gift ideas? Michigan-made outdoor products and camping gear have surged in popularity as gift options as more people choose to take their vacations in the state’s parks and natural areas.

    Gift recommendations for other Michigan-made products include shirts from Made in the Mitten, Shaggy’s Skis based in Boyne City, and the wide variety of hats and apparel made by Stormy Kromer, McKinley said. 

    He regularly buys their products as gifts for himself and the rest of the family, and the dog even has a coat and hat made by the Ironwood-based company.   

    “That’s a Michigan dog alright,” McKinley said. “Of course, he hates me when I make him wear it — but he does.”

    Nicholas Simon is a multimedia reporter for Capital News Service. Areas of interest for Simon, who hails from South Haven, Mich., include international relations, commerical spaceflight, ecology and globalization.