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How to Support Small Businesses—with 100+ Gift Ideas to Get You Started

How to support small businesses

The busiest shopping season of the year is upon us. Our inboxes are brimming with deals from businesses vying for our dollars. While there’s no indication that the pandemic will stop the Black Friday Cyber Monday surge, the way we shop has changed forever

An increase in online shopping and adoption of alternative delivery methods are the most obvious trends. But what the pandemic has also uncovered—call it a silver lining—is an increased sense of community. We are all in this together. And our communities rely on the small businesses at the heart of them. 

Retail store interior
Go Forth Goods

Small business owners have been hit especially hard by the measures and government mandates set to keep people safe. Many have been forced to close their doors. According to one report, during the first three months of the pandemic’s surge in the US, small business revenues were down 40% overall, and 40% of small businesses closed. Some may not reopen. Others have made clever pivots to service their customers without human contact. 

We have choices right now. 

We, as a global community, can secure the futures of those resilient small businesses and help them shine. This BFCM, consider diverting your dollars from big-box stores to local businesses—you may even discover a new favorite destination for buying gifts. 

While the need to help the independent business community is most immediately obvious, the benefits of shopping small extend beyond times of crisis.

While the need to support small businesses is most immediately obvious, the benefits of shopping small extend beyond times of crisis. We’ll illustrate why shopping at small businesses is good for everyone at all times and give you plenty of tips on how to do it—even at a distance.

🎁 Plus, we’re sharing 100+ gift ideas from independent businesses, just in time for BFCM and the holiday shopping season. Jump to the list. 👉

Why support small businesses

Small business owner in a apron standing and smiling with crossed arms

Beyond their size, small businesses are defined by their spirit. And at the helm are their intrepid founders—scrappy, ambitious, and resilient. They invent and build things despite uncertainty, because it’s what drives them. Their risks lead to innovation that moves the world forward. And we need them.

Small businesses are important to the economic and social fabric of our society, and we all play a part in their survival.

Competition from chain stores, skyrocketing retail leases, and struggles to secure funding or manage cash flow all contribute to well-known small-business failure rates. But small businesses are important to the economic and social fabric of our society. Here’s why it’s important to support them.

1. They make a positive impact to the local economy

The spread of the global pandemic has undoubtedly affected the economy. We cannot stop this, but we can make a choice with our dollars to help local economies stay afloat and give small businesses a fighting chance to rebound when we emerge from our homes.

Growing companies, some that started in garages or coffee shops, foster eco-systems that enable other small businesses to thrive in their wake. Entrepreneurship inspires and facilitates more entrepreneurship—think online curators, who amplify even more small brands, bringing their products to new audiences.

When you shop local, your dollars stay in the community and help local development.

In terms of local businesses, the impact is even more obvious. When you shop local, your dollars stay in the community and help local development. This is called the multiplier effect. For example, a restaurant buying ingredients from local producers uses a local insurance broker and hires a local design firm, building symbiotic relationships that help the whole business community prosper. 

2. They support communities and job creation

Small businesses, especially in the case of retail stores, are often major contributors to the heart of a community. “Main Street” becomes a hub of activity, where stores, business associations, and local government work collectively to create and preserve the character of their town or neighbourhood. A deliberate focus on supporting local business helps drive up the appeal of the shopping area and attracts tourism dollars into the community. The effect has a positive impact on adjacent hotels, attractions, and tours.

A healthy presence of small businesses in communities also helps people learn on-the-job business skills, empowering the next generation of entrepreneurs.

Small businesses also create local jobs. As of 2015, US small businesses employed 58 million people, or 48% of the private workforce. A healthy presence of small businesses in communities also helps people learn on-the-job business skills, empowering the next generation of entrepreneurs.

3. They are often sustainable shopping alternatives

Wooden rocking chair with woven seat
Handmade sustainable chair. Masaya & Co.

While not true in every case, smaller businesses may have a shorter manufacturer-to-consumer journey, meaning there is more transparency in ingredients, materials, and the source of the products you buy. Small businesses are often makers, producing goods locally. Or they are resellers of products made by small-batch brands.

Smaller businesses often have the means to manufacture and source locally and ethically because of smaller quantities. You may pay more for these goods versus similar items at chain retailers, but you’re paying for the peace of mind that comes with ethical production.

4. They put customer experience first

Large brands have recognized that immersive experiences win in retail, but the intimacy and personalized care of small businesses is hard to scale. Many new business owners launch alone and fill every role in the business, including customer service. Without the layers of management and corporate policy, small business owners can make their own rules. The good ones will bend over backward for each shopper—because every customer matters when you’re small.

Every customer matters when you’re small.

Shopping with small businesses is often a point of discovery. Smaller, local, and handmade goods brands often can’t fulfill wholesale orders for larger chains, and their goods generally can only be bought direct from the business’s own website or sales channels, or in independent retailers. Where department stores win on volume, small businesses shine in diversity and uniqueness.

5 ways to support small businesses while social distancing

A retail store interior
Moorea Seal

There are many ways your dollars—not being spent on bars or movies—can be diverted to small businesses. From pandemic survival basics to unique gifts, independent shops have you covered. Now that you know why it’s important to support small businesses, here’s how to do it.

1. Discover new brands

Take a look around while you’re out walking in your neighborhood. Is there a small grocer you haven’t noticed before? An independent bookstore you haven’t visited? Check with neighbors and review sites to discover local businesses that may become your new favorites. 

You can also download the Shop app. It not only tracks all your orders from all online sources in one place, it’s also a great way to discover local and curated businesses and get notified when your favorite brands have new products in stock.

2. Buy gift cards

gift card in a cardboard sleeve
Good Neighbour

We’ll get through this. And once the lockdowns have been lifted, you’ll be back to your usual routine, visiting your favorite sandwich shop, taking a hot yoga class, or buying candles at the maker space. Help your usual haunts make it through the lockdown by paying for products and services in advance. Check their websites to see if they offer gift cards or class packs.

On Instagram, Good Neighbour founder Aziz Alam says, “We will dearly miss seeing our wonderful neighbours during this challenging time. As a small, family owned business that relies on foot traffic to keep things running smoothly we greatly appreciate your support [online]. Gift cards can also go a long way.”

3. Share your favorite stores in your social networks

Did your favorite small business close? Is it paying its employees anyway? Help it stay afloat by paying forward its goodwill. Tell your followers about ways they can support it, like buying gift cards for future purchases.

While others in your circles may be looking for gift ideas of their own, share your unboxing experiences or short reviews of products you’ve purchased from small businesses.

4. Reach out

A merchant wearing a face masks passes a bag to a customer through a door

You may have built relationships with some of the small business owners where you usually shop. Reach out and ask what they need right now. If you’re a business owner too, stick together and support your fellow founders—like Pause Beauty, which has committed to giving free pedicures to frontline workers when the risk is over. Think of the online business community as one big self-sustaining Main Street. 

In a recent Instagram post, Noah Clothing founder Brendon Babenzien urged his followers to “buy something. Not necessarily from us, but from any independent businesses or creative enterprises you believe in, and preferably those that’ve made positive, ethical choices in the ways they create and operate.”

5. Buy holiday gifts from small businesses

Larger retailers have made it easy to shop, with incentives like free next-day shipping. But if you have a little more time to wait, you can find unique, handmade, or sustainable alternatives at small businesses. Give twice with every gift—your business means a lot to independent brands, especially now. Read on to discover dozens of ideas for feel-good gift giving. 

The ultimate independent gift guide—100+ ideas for every occasion, everyone on your list 🎁

A collage of gift ideas
Gift ideas from (left to right) Clean Beauty Box, Harry Barker, Octave Jewelry, Brooklyn Bicycle Co., and ART ARK

Gifts for your bestie, gifts for your stepmom, gifts for yourself. Whomever you’re buying for and whatever the occasion, there’s an independent business with the perfect gift. To get you started, we’ve picked 100+ ideas to kick off your BFCM and holiday shopping adventure.

Gifts for foodies

Cast pans on a wooden surface
Old World Kitchen

Many restaurants are closed for dine-in, but check in to see if any are offering delivery as an alternative. Gift cards to your favorite eateries make great gifts. Otherwise, get inspired by those hours of Top Chef you’ve been binging in isolation.

Gifts for makers

Woman models a blue top and plaid pants against a yellow background
Friday Pattern Company

Nine months into this thing, I think we’re all makers now. Give gifts for idle hands with easy-to-follow kits and supplies for more advanced DIY.

Gifts for fitness buffs 

Green sneakers perched atop cinderblocks
York Athletics Mfg.

Replicating the gym or yoga studio experience at home requires gear. Stock up on gifts for fitness lovers from these independent businesses.

Good gifts that give back

Three pairs of legs poke out from under a blanket, all wearing cozy socks

Supporting small businesses is already an act of kindness, but you can go a step further by shopping from sustainable and ethical independent brands. Here are a few that offer great gift ideas, too.

🎁 Need more ethical gift ideas? Check out our list picked from more than 50 small businesses.

Gifts for entrepreneurs (and remote working life)

A woman writes on a large paper roller that is affixed to the wall
George & Willy

Working from home? Same. Now we’ve all joined the reality of the many entrepreneurs who start businesses from their kitchen tables. Give meaningful gifts that make the work-from-home experience more ergonomic and professional.

Tech gifts

A home security camera sitting in front of a house plant
Momentum Home Automation

Shop gear and gadgets that automate tasks, keep your loved ones safe, and teach kids the basics of tech, all from independent brands.

Kid gifts

Girls wearing a t-shirt that reads "pick flowers, not fights"
The Bee & the Fox

Swimming in plastic junk and stumped for gift ideas for kids who have everything? Get creative with ideas from small businesses that aim to spark creativity, encourage movement, and expand growing minds. 

Gifts for coffee and tea lovers

Coffee grounds are poured into a coffee maker
Detour Coffee Roasters

Local cafes may be closed, and free-flowing office coffee sources have gone dry, but you don’t need to resort to instant coffee. Please, I beg you. Shop these online retailers to send some caffeinated SOS to those you love:

Gifts for self care

People lounge on a deck in silk pajamas
Walls of Benin

We’re nine months into pandemic isolation—that’s still very challenging for some. Stay in tune with your mental health and access resources available to you. It’s also a good time to treat yourself

Fashion gifts

Two people model sweat suits and masks

We’re all spending a little more time in loungewear these days, but for those who haven’t given up on “hard clothes” altogether, there are plenty of independent fashion brands selling apparel that’s cool and comfy, too.

Gifts for rainy Sundays

Hands place pieces into a large round puzzle
Four Point Puzzles

It might be a while before we can all escape the isolation and return to our book clubs or coding classes. In the meantime, give the gift of a new hobby or pastime with these picks from small businesses.

Gifts for pets and their people

A small caramel dog wearing a green harness stares into the abyss
Wild One

Pets are the real winners this year, basking in the love of their humans who have no choice but to be home bestowing pets all day. That doesn’t mean they don’t deserve a treat, too. These independent businesses sell everything from cookies to toys to custom pet-themed art.

Custom gifts

A gift box containing tea, honey, and a candle
Happy Box Store

Nothing says “I’m thinking about you” more than a truly personal gift. These independent businesses help you create one-of-a-kind gifts with your loved one in mind. 

Beauty gifts

A woman rubs a yellow cleanser onto her face
Then I Met You

How else would we survive a year like 2020 without a little self care? For some, that means indulging in at-home spa rituals or even something as simple as wearing lipstick in a work Zoom meeting. For gift ideas for the beauty worshippers on your list, consult the experts: these independent skincare and cosmetics brands. 

Gifts for grounded travellers

A woman lays in a blue hammock in a grassy yard
Grand Trunk

I’m as gutted as you are that I haven’t explored outside my own city’s limits for the better part of the year. For others with an unsatisfied hunger for travel, give a gift that reminds them of faraway places or helps them explore safely.

Gifts for outdoorsy types

An axe stuck in a tree stump
Brant & Cochran

We’re not saying you should panic, but preparedness never hurt anyone. These shops have everything you need to go on an extended off-grid stay in the woods—social distancing at its finest.

Gifts for hunkering down for a long (and socially distanced) winter

An indoor wood stove with a dire burning inside
Mi Cocina

Soon we’ll say goodbye to socially distanced driveway hangs and hunker into full isolation for the winter. Give gifts that bring comfort to lonely souls and cold feet.

BONUS: Staff picks for independent gifting

My favorite little independent video rental spot closed last year (yes, it was so magical, it lasted until 2019). What was so special about it, like many other independent businesses, was the personal touch that Blockbuster could never replicate to scale—handwritten signs, weathered wood shelves, and best of all, the staff picks. The store was staffed by true film lovers, and I relied on the staff pick shelf to discover hidden gems.

In that spirit, I asked some of my colleagues to share their own gift ideas from independent businesses. Here are our personal picks from some of our favorite Shopify stores.

Braveen’s pick

Wooden desk accessories by Grovemade

A hand holds a cell phone and wooden and wool office accessories sit on a wooden desk
Grove Made

“I spend a lot of time in my home office (like a lot of people these days). So I decided to invest a bit into my workspace to make it more comfortable and more organized with Grovemade’s products.” —Braveen Kumar

Desirae’s pick

Cocktail kits by Bar from Afar

Close up of a cocktail with an orange slice
Bar from Afar

“Bar from Afar delivers high quality cocktail kits so you can recreate the fancy drink experience at home with no equipment or experience!” —Desirae Odjick

Shuang’s pick

Bath and body products by Alaffia

Bar soaps staged with fresh fruits and herbs

“Alaffia is one of my favourite gift shops. They sell bath and body products infused with Indigenous West African ingredients made by women in Togo through a cooperative that empowers women and kids.” —Shuang Esther Shan

Dayna’s pick

Vibrant cotton and linen bedding by Maison Tess

A bed with bright blue and copper bedding
Maison Tess

“I bought the cotton amber bedspread from Maison Tess and the richness of the color was even better in person.” —Dayna Winter

Adam’s pick

Handcrafted home decor by Timber Made Design Co.

Hexagonal shelves hung on a white wall
Timber Made Design Co.

“As I moved recently, I discovered Timber Made Design Co., a small wood workshop that makes beautiful home decor.” —Adam Rogers

🎁 Still haven’t found the perfect gift? We compiled dozens more handpicked ideas from curators and tastemakers alike. Check out The Gift Better Guide.

Feature illustration by Isabella Fassler