JnJ CraftWorks, a gift shop in Verona, is one of the many Dane Buy Local organizations that Madisonians are encouraged to shop at this holiday season.

While the coronavirus pandemic has brought hard times on many Americans, small, locally-owned businesses have been hit especially hard and have faced unprecedented economic hardships brought on the pandemic. For these businesses, shopping local is more important than ever. A local organization, Dane Buy Local, has developed several ways to safely shop local this holiday season and is urging Madisonians to buy local.

To kick off the holiday shopping season, Dane Buy Local hosted a press conference via Zoom on Nov. 19 with Dane County Executive Joe Parisi and other local business leaders to celebrate the 11th anniversary of its partner, Shop Indie Local, and to emphasize the importance of buying locally this holiday season. Shop Indie Local is a national organization that celebrates locally owned businesses and works to increase spending at these businesses.

Dane Buy Local Executive Director Colin Murray noted that due to the pandemic, Dane Buy Local has adapted its services to provide customers with contact-free ways to patronize local businesses. Dane Buy Local has over 600 members throughout Dane County.

“We put together a marketplace, it’s on our home page, where you can click on any of the area businesses, go on their website, and purchase directly off their website,” Murray said. “A lot of local businesses don’t have that ability to do that. So we really wanted to highlight the ones that do have that [and] set up for working with a digital marketing agency for an e-commerce opportunity to make it easy for consumers to find them and to be able to support them.

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“We’ve got a holiday gift page there as well. And again, many of those items you can purchase online. So that’s the second feature, and then the third one is gift cards. That’s a great way to support local businesses, buy a gift card to give to someone,” continued Murray. “That way, once the pandemic passes, you can go in and spend money there at that business. And that helps the business outright. It gives them some cashflow which is desperately needed by many of these businesses.”

Shop Indie Local, in partnership with Dane Buy Local, will also be providing a list of shopping activities including Small Business Saturday, Artsy Sunday, Local Cyber Monday, and Giving Tuesday in which shoppers can engage with their local businesses. Shop Indie Local runs through December 31.

“What we’re doing is pulling together a number of different events and activities that take place during the holiday season and pulling it under one umbrella,” Murray said. “So we take the Shop Indie Local umbrella, which is presented locally by the Bank of Sun Prairie, and present all of these different programs that are out there.” 

Murray urged consumers to buy locally, as the holiday season will be crucial in keeping local businesses afloat.

“It’s really going to be a matter of survival for a lot of these businesses,” Murray said. “If they don’t have a decent holiday season, many of them have told me they’re going to be closing their doors at the end of the year. The amount of revenue that they’ve lost since March till now has been very difficult, but between now and the end of the year is crucial for many of these businesses.  

“We’ve been working very closely with the Black Chamber of Commerce and the Latino Chamber of Commerce. And particularly during the time that we had the $10.8 million grant from the county, we focused very closely on making sure that Black and brown businesses were well-represented,” added Murray.

Dane Buy Local’s “Soup’s On!” program

Murray also noted that local businesses are essential in upholding Madison’s economy.

“If you were to combine all of the different local owned businesses in Dane County, it would be the largest employer in the County,” Murray said.

In the future, as 2020 comes to an end, Dane Buy Local will be continuing its current program “Soup’s On!” which allows consumers to order and buy soup in bulk from local businesses.

“We’ll be doing that again, December 1st, 8th, and 15th, and then we’ll pick some more dates in January, February, and March to continue on doing that,” Murray said. “All of the revenue goes right back to the restaurants that provide the soup to help keep them going.”