Why It Pays Big To Support Small Businesses

It’s been said time and again (by Charlie Brown, for instance) that the holidays in the US have lost their meaning and become a great shopping-and-spending fest. First Christmas became over-commercialized and now Thanksgiving — America’s national day of thankfulness — seems in danger of becoming the “day before you start your Black Friday shopping.” Around where I live in northern New Jersey, Halloween is also over-hyped, with stores devoted to decorations and costumes galore.

My mother always sewed costumes for my sister and me when we were children: We were “colonial girls” with beautiful frilly dresses in blue and pink that she made at her Singer sewing machine. Another year I was a rabbit and one year, a Native American (ok, an “Indian” as I said back in the 1970s) in a costume sewn by my mom that I decorated with fabric pens. When I was very young, I had looked enviously at the shiny, ready-made plastic costumes in the stores but soon came to appreciate how valuable, and much more special, a homemade, mom-sewn costume made just for me was.

I’m no seamstress — at the most, I hem my pants or sew on a button — but my mom is, as well as my late grandmother Ngin-Ngin and several great aunts. They all sewed clothes (Ngin-Ngin was known to criticize the poor sewing of the chain-store clothes we had wasted our money on) and knit sweaters, crocheted afghans, cooked everything from scratch. Those Halloween costumes my mom made and years of home-cooked Chinese food have given me a huge appreciation for making things yourself, for knowing how the clothes you’re wearing or the food you’re digging into was made and by whom.

I’d love to make all my gifts and doing so seems a proper way to occupy Black Friday and embrace Buy Nothing Day. My time and talents being lacking in regard to sewing and cooking, I usually limit my holiday gift-making to creating photo calendars and cards for relatives. But I like to seek out things that are sold and made by individuals. This holiday season, my aunts and cousins will receive hand-designed and printed towels from Skinny Laminx. I’ve no knitting ability and have been glad to find the creations of TortillaGirl. A  hand-sewn bag from Moop in Pittsburgh or a backpack from Infusion or Sketchbook in Oregon make carting around books, a computer, coffee (which tastes better in a nice cup, no?), lunch, colored chalk and everything I need to teach a breeze on the crowded cars of New Jersey Transit and the PATH train.

Some of these handmade gifts do cost more than what you’ll find in Target or Macy’s. By buying directly from the person who makes what you’re buying, your dollars are going right to the source, directly to the person who is supporting her or his own small business, for their materials and equipment and labor rather than to Some Large Multinational Conglomerate that divvies out the smallest possible piece of profit to the women sewing in sweatshop conditions in another country. Many of these small business owners have blogs or other sites in which they write about their process so you get a clear idea of the work that goes into making something and of how this is a 24/7 effort; of how a day taken off means well-earned rest, but also no new revenue to keep the business going. They also sometimes write about their daily life, their families, what inspires them, their work as artists and makers.

Wendy Downs of Moop writes about how she and her family are “every branch of this little business.”

The first year we moved to Pittsburgh, Moop was only Jeremy and I.  It was the first holiday season Jeremy had experienced working full time at Moop and the first holiday season where our studio was not in our home.   From late October to early February, we sewed and sewed and sewed late into the night, every day of the week.   We would pick Parker up from school and drive back down to the studio, where she would spend the rest of her day and evening and part of the night.  The studio is quite small…it’s only about 700 square feet and houses our office, production space, storage and everything else.  That year we put a Christmas tree in the window, a folding cot in the back room and a crock pot on our desk.  We would let dinner simmer all day long, Jeremy and I would trade off helping Parker with homework and then we would eat as a family in the back room of our studio during short breaks from working.  Afterwards, Jeremy and I would get back to sewing and Parker would settle down with a drawing pad and colored pencils and we would listen to A Christmas Carol.   Parker would eventually fall asleep on the cot until we could head home around midnight every night.  It was an immensely exhausting time, but it was filled with fond memories of our little family of three, working to make holiday gifts for those around us while spending time together as we all adjusted to life in a new city.

Because of the support from all of you, we’ve been able to hire a few assistants so our holidays are not quite as Tiny Tim as they used to be.  They are still a huge amount of work, but it means we get to take off for Thanksgiving and Christmas to spend at home with friends and family. …Even though we have grown (and Parker no longer has to sleep in the back of the studio during the holiday season!) we’re still the same – building every single bag, start to finish, in our small and cozy studio.

Buying handmade or what my husband sometimes calls “homemade” online is very different from clicking “buy” and sending your credit card number to some anonymous worker at BigCompany.com. Thinking small (business) when you’re getting gifts this holiday season can make a bigger difference than you may realize and can make the world a lot smaller, and more homey, too.

Related Care2 Coverage

It’s Buy Nothing Day: #OCCUPYXMAS

9 Ideas for Congress to Address the 99 Percent

Downsizing the Box & the Smaller Future of Retail



Photo by kate*

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Duane B.
.2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Fred M.
Fred M.3 years ago

I am very pro-small business. Great to see small businesses join together on platforms like ETSY, because it makes it easier for me to find small business items I like. I am engaged and using Knack for my registry, which is also a great way to find unique small business offerings.


Dolores M.
Dolores M.3 years ago

Small business (free enterprise) is the concept this country was originanlly founded upon. Support your local, small businesses....send a message to those companies who want to ruin their livelihood!

Glenn M.
Glenn Meyer3 years ago

It is also why out-sourcing and off-shoring should be curtailed. IT is allowing unfair competition by substantively foreign companies.

Corporations have over-powered our government which now believes that out-sourcing and off-shoring of U.S. jobs is inevitable and necessary with expectations that the middle class should fall on their swords. It is the underlying cause of the financial collapse and borders on national security with the loss of our middle class tax base. Yet, this nation does nothing, not even demand it be restricted by whatever method. International businesses are doing the UN-AMERICAN activity of destroying U.S. salaries, U.S. businesses that hire in the U.S., and as an end result, destroying the U.S. marketplace while still demanding BUSINESS ENTITLEMENTS and protections for themselves.

Infrastructure spending and tax breaks will not replace enough jobs to keep up with the hemorrhaging loss of U.S. jobs from out-sourcing over seas. Neither party will do anything about it unless we begin grass roots efforts to protest out-sourcing and off-shoring of U.S. jobs. If nothing is done we will deserve what we get and it will get a lot worse before it gets better.

Chris J.
Chris J.3 years ago

Etsy is a great way to start ;)

Cynthia Gilmore
cynthia Gilmore3 years ago

Small businesses are in crisis and being snuffed out by the likes of Walmart and Target. Every time one of those stores opens you can watch the small businesses close their doors. We are losing part of our culture and supporting overseas economies NOT our own by doing so. These stores buy cheaply and from overseas. Local stores support local artists and entrepreneurs. Show them you care and help keep jobs in THIS country. Skip Walmart buy locally.

rene davis
rene davis3 years ago

thank you

Mark Stevenson
Mark S.3 years ago

Unfortunately, Wal-Mart has most people hypnotized. Every time I drive past a Wal-Mart, the parking lot is full. I don't like going in there because all the walking I have to do to find what I want, waiting in long lines in the checkout, and of course the cheap Chinese crap. I do admit I go in there once in awhile, for underwear and pants.Wal-Mart caused a lot of the competition to close, so the only choice left was Wal-Mart. But ever since I got the internet, I try to shop online. And not Wal-Mart. I also try to find stuff made in the USA. If none are available, I have to buy the imports or do without. Remember years ago when "made in USA" was a Wal-Mart slogan? Not anymore.

Sheri P.
Sheri P.3 years ago

avoid the big businesses and shop local as much as possible...

Dave C.
Dave C.3 years ago

thank you...agreed, I always prefer to help small and local businesses when I have the chance....you actually know who made the products and their ethics....