Buying local is a boon for communities and customers

Shopping small businesses is not about throwing money at the abstract idea of ​​local business.

It’s about building communities and allowing real people to deliver real value, according to Chris Lerch, founder of Hello 422.

“When you think about your hometown, it’s the small businesses that really make it up,” Lerch said. “They are owned by people in your community, the employees are people from your area, they contribute, they are the places you go with your family… They are just ingrained.”

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Businesses in downtown Pottstown are ready for the holiday shopping season. (DONNA ROVINS – MEDIANEWS GROUP PHOTO)

Lerch, who is director of marketing for 422 Sportsplex in Pottstown, started Hello 422 in 2020, as a passion project during the pandemic lockdown to raise awareness for struggling small businesses.

His organization highlights local stores along the 422 corridor, from Pottstown to Phoenixville.

A cornerstone of Hello 422’s efforts is the semi-annual Shop Small to Win Big event, where customers who spend $50 or more at local businesses can submit their receipt for a chance to win thousands of dollars in gift cards.

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Shop Small to Win Big has generated more than $230,000 in local sales, according to the Hello 422 website.

“I think there is a renewed interest in small businesses. We all saw how they were struggling, impacted or shut down…everyone saw that and there’s a great recovery,” Lerch said.

Lerch said one of her favorite places to hang out during the holiday season is Bridge Street Chocolates in Phoenixville.

“They have an amazing selection of different chocolates and candies, I always end up buying some stocking stuffers there,” Lerch said.

Small business giveaways have an added layer of meaning, according to Lerch.

“A lot of times it’s something that was made locally, a product that you can learn more about by talking to the business owner,” Lerch said, “Even down to the packaging presentation… I think the whole shopping experience with small companies is more significant.”

Businesses along the 600 block of Penn Avenue in downtown West Reading are ready for the official start of the holiday season.  (BILL UHRICH - MEDIA NEWS GROUP PHOTO)
Businesses along the 600 block of Penn Avenue in downtown West Reading are ready for the official start of the holiday season. (BILL UHRICH – MEDIA NEWS GROUP PHOTO)

The push to shop local is not unexpected, according to Mark Ratcliffe, Main Street administrator for the West Reading Community Revitalization Foundation.

Ratcliffe’s organization spearheads the marketing and promotion of West Reading businesses and hosts annual events along Penn Avenue, including Arts on the Avenue and the Fall Festival, which are attended by tens of thousands.

“People are looking for that sense of community, seeing their friends and connecting with people in a way that malls used to do,” Ratcliffe said of why people shop local in the age of online shopping. .

Ratcliffe said people are beginning to understand that buying local keeps money in the community, adding that studies have shown that 48% of money spent at local businesses is recirculated locally, compared to 14% at a chain. shopping.

Small businesses also have a big economic impact: About half of the jobs in the US are created by small businesses, Ratcliffe said.

Quality customer service is another draw to shopping local, said Eileen Dautrich, president of the TriCounty Area Chamber of Commerce, which serves Berks, Montgomery and Chester counties.

“When you want to call customer service, it’s much nicer to know that you have someone on the other end of the line or that you can visit a local business during your lunch hour and have someone solve the problem,” Dautrich said.

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Laura Vernola, owner of Mont Clare Deli and Market in Upper Providence, in the kitchen of the new business that opened in September. Vernola also owns Steel City Coffeehouse and Brewery in Phoenixville. (DONNA ROVINS – MEDIANEWS GROUP FILE PHOTO)

Offering that personal touch is the way small businesses thrive, Dautrich said.

“(Small business owners) are your neighbors, they’re the parents of your fellow students on your kids’ football team, they’re sponsoring the football jerseys,” Dautrich said, “It’s a different way of looking at it when you think back to these they are people in their own community.”

In addition, small businesses create a sense of place, which adds to the vibrancy and character of the community, said Aaron Gantz, senior director of economic development for the Greater Reading Chamber Association.

Gantz said Berks County’s five “main street” areas — Boyertown, Downtown Reading, Hamburg, Kutztown and West Reading — feature a variety of public art, as well as unique shops, restaurants and events.

small business saturday

To highlight small businesses during a weekend when big box retailers are inundated with customers, several municipalities and local groups are hosting Small Business Saturday events this year.

The events offer shoppers additional benefits for visiting local stores on Saturday, November 26.

West Reading’s Small Business Saturday event includes handouts of ShopSmall tote bags and passports, which can be stamped at participating businesses.

Buyers who have their passports stamped by at least eight companies can enter their passports into a drawing for prizes, with the winner receiving a complimentary vacation carriage ride for four.

A similar event is taking place in Hamburg, where shoppers visiting 10 businesses and one restaurant can submit their passports for a chance to win a basket full of $25 gift cards from each participating business.

Dautrich said the TriCounty Chamber of Commerce partnered with American Express as part of its “Neighborhood Champion” campaign, which encourages area shoppers to patronize local businesses on Small Business Saturday.

Hello 422’s Shop Small Saturday event is a “nacho crawl,” Lerch said, featuring 21 restaurants along the 422 corridor.

“It’s an idea to have groups of people jump from restaurant to restaurant, order a plate of nachos, and go shopping in between meals,” Lerch said.

In addition, Hello 422 will host another Shop Small to Win Big raffle, November 25-December 4, with three grand prizes of $4,000 each in gift cards to 120 local businesses.

Other local purchasing initiatives

Efforts to encourage small purchases aren’t limited to the holiday season, Lerch noted.

He said an effort in Phoenixville involves closing two blocks of Bridge Street to automobile traffic every weekend from spring through early fall to allow customers to dine on the street and provide businesses with outdoor space for display products.

In Berks County, the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance offers the Go Buy Berks Gift Card, which can be used at any business in Berks that accepts Mastercard.

Gantz said the card is designed to generate marketing dollars and exposure to Berks County businesses and inspire the community to buy little.

No matter how shoppers choose to support local businesses, doing so sends a critical message, said Bernard Dagenais, president and CEO of the Main Line Chamber of Commerce.

“Local stores pay local taxes which help reduce the burden on residents. They are our neighbors and often hire local employees. They support local organizations, including nonprofits that provide our region with social services, the arts, and life-enhancing activities,” Dagenais said, “Consumers who care about shopping local are showing they care about their communities. ”.

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