I was lucky enough to grow up in a neighborhood surrounded with roundabouts, block parties, and “children at play” signs. The kind of place where you know your neighbors, and they know you better. Ever since I can remember, Luigi’s Italian restaurant provided us with our Friday night spaghetti and meatballs, while Josh & John’s served up the best cake batter ice cream. We’d never go more than two weeks without the Carlos Miguel’s chips and salsa or a hot coffee from Urban Steam. Poor Richards gave us books, Shuga’s gave us bruschetta, and Elly Blue gave us our boutique. Our local businesses were for special family dinners, the best birthday cards, and ultimately, our favorite traditions. Our community remained, and remains, a special place because of our deep-rooted and long standing local, family-owned businesses.
In college I found my favorite bar, and once I started paying my own rent, found the best happy hour deals nearby. Moving to Denver after I graduated allowed me to seek out a new coffee shop, and Christmas led me straight to the local boutiques. I know that I am not alone in having local spots that I have grown to love and would do anything to support. In fact, anytime I go visit friends or family who live somewhere else, they take me to their favorite hole-in-the-wall places that have added some small bits of happiness to their lives. We all know (or at least have some idea) how difficult it has been for local businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. My heart breaks for the places that have had to shut their doors temporarily, and even more so for those who have had to say their permanent goodbyes. I have experienced genuine mourning for some of my number-ones.
As a society, we prioritize and place a premium on convenience. Speed and ease are top drivers when we make our purchasing decisions, Amazon can attest. If nothing else, Amazon, the corporate package factory, is utterly and undeniably convenient. Prime subscriptions have paved the way for speedy delivery options (we’re talking next-day), and the abundance of products on the site are limitless. You cannot argue that Amazon has changed the way that we, as a people, are consuming. Whether that is a good or a bad thing, you decide. I am not going to sit here and say that I am not an active participant in online Amazon shopping (see Mom, I can admit it). But, if you put the convenience aside, it is ultimately better for your community and local economy if you do your best to shop at your local businesses. Jeff Bezos will be just fine, I promise.
There are strides being made for local businesses. Dave Portnoy, the founder of Barstool Sports, has raised over $36 million dollars with his Barstool Fund-a fund designed to support local businesses across the country, and is exceeding the original expectations. Portnoy is using his very prominent platform to raise money, a brilliant, and life-changing action for people all over the nation. Major companies such as Google and Instagram have added features to their shopping tabs that highlight Black-owned businesses making it more accessible for people to find them. On a smaller scale, people are creating Facebook groups for their communities and putting on auctions to help promote buying local products. I found countless articles online about the many initiatives people are taking to help support others during this tough time, and it really blew me away. It also made me take a step back, look at the Starbucks cup I picked up earlier this morning, and think about how I can participate in helping.
To be honest, the pandemic is what really put all of this into perspective for me, and I don’t think I am alone in that. I have always been told to shop local and to help support the community, but it didn’t seem like it really mattered that much. As cliché as it might be, you really don’t know what you have until its gone. With over 100,000 businesses closed due to the pandemic, it has become extremely apparent how much it does matter to shop locally. Now, when I think about why I want to shop locally, it goes beyond money and convenience. Shopping locally, for me, is a way to support my next-door neighbor who has devoted their life to the café on the corner. It’s the twenty-year-old entrepreneur who said goodbye to the classroom, and hello to the path less traveled by starting a company from the ground up, and there’s nothing I want more than for them to succeed. I think about how for every beer that I buy from my favorite brewery in Tennyson, they put twenty-five cents of the purchase towards a local charity. Sure, I love the way Chipotle tastes, but it’s the way that I feel when I see a friendly face working behind the counter that makes all the difference. I think consumer priorities are changing as people are more aware and conscious of where they are spending their dollars. I certainly am.
Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with several local business owners in the community, and they gave me some insight into how they have been affected by the pandemic. In majority of the conversations I had, they all placed a premium on their local consumers, and how word of mouth has been key in keeping them afloat.
Robin Serafini has owned VaVa Bloom, the flower shop next door to Explore, for seven years. However, it doesn’t stop at flowers. The shop is home to some of the best and most unique, cards, toys, and gifts that you can find around Denver. Robin told me that she undeniably noticed that the number of people walking into her store decreased due to the pandemic, but flower deliveries increased exponentially. “I think since people were not traveling to go see relatives, they were sending things to them instead,” she says. In this case, her business was able to balance out this change in consumer behavior. Robin did not increase her marketing initiatives this last year, because she simply didn’t need to. Instead, she leaned into word of mouth and the prime location of her store to lead people in, as she always has. This is the kind of shop you want to stick around, trust me.
The Pasty Republic, a restaurant/bakery here in Denver, has been around for eight delicious years. Owner Matt Cherry told me that they have been quite lucky during the pandemic, and they actually hit all of their projections for last year; thankfully not a dissimilar experience to Robin’s store. With the restaurant having limited seating and more of a “grab-n-go” atmosphere, not much has changed for this local gem. Phew.
I also had the opportunity to speak with Katherine Rainbolt, the Chief Marketing Officer for one of my favorite bookstores in Denver, the Tattered Cover. She let me know that the business was in fact, profoundly impacted by the pandemic. Like most bookstores, their primary way of serving customers was with in-person shopping. Katherine says, “With limited capacity to serve customers in that way, we were and continue to be hit hard.” To combat some of the obstacles that the pandemic has thrown their way, the Tattered Cover has dramatically increased their presence across digital channels, as well as tried to create connections with a virtual community. Though the business has been affected, they continue to be a community-led organization that focuses on providing a haven for knowledge and conversation. They are celebrating their 50th anniversary this year, and I for one, am looking forward to many more years of visiting this special store.
If I learned anything from talking to local business owners and marketing professionals, it’s that whether they were hit hard or not during the pandemic, local consumers are what drive their success. It’s not that you can’t shop on Amazon, it’s just that there are those who need that purchase more. The pizza joint down the block, the card store on the corner, and the nearest flower shop make your community just that: a community. So, let’s keep it that way.
As a team, Explore Communications has put together a list of some of our favorite local businesses in Denver, Golden, Colorado Springs, and more. We encourage you to please check them out. We know you’ll love them as much as we do!
- On Off Café-Highlands (restaurant)
- Stanley Beer Hall-Aurora (brewery)
- Holidaily Brewing Company -Golden (brewery)
- BE A GOOD PERSON– RiNo (clothing store)
Maci Café-Highlands (café)
- Copper Door Coffee-Lowry (café)
- Chuck & Don’s– (pet supplies)
- Bjorn’s Colorado Honey-Boulder (honey producer)
- Oh My Empanada-(restaurant)
- Urban Steam-Colorado Springs (café)
- Bear Creek Distillery-Downtown
- Acova-Highlands (restaurant)
- Southside Pizzeria
- Spinster Sisters-Golden (skin products)
- North County-Lowry (restaurant)
- The Wooden Spoon-Highlands (restaurant)
- Lucky’s Sandwiches-Highlands (restaurant)
- Chop Shop-Colfax, South Broadway, Lowry (restaurant)
- Timbuk Toys-Lowry (toy store)
- Carlos Miguel’s-Littleton, Colorado Springs (restaurant)
- Elly Blue-Colorado Springs boutique)
- Luigi’s-Colorado Springs (restaurant)
- Poor Richards-Colorado Springs (restaurant/boutique)
- Shugas-Colorado Springs (restaurant)
- Josh and Johns-Colorado Springs (ice cream)
- Viv Cycle (cycling studio) – RiNo
- Awake Denver (coffee shop) – Jeff Park
- Crema (coffee shop) – RiNo
- Meraki Moon (boutique) – RiNo
- Bar Dough (restaurant) – LoHi
- Safta (restaurant) – RiNo
- El Five (restaurant) – RiNo
- Two Hands Paperie-Boulder
- Hollywood Barber Shop-Colfax
- Intersections-Stapleton (restaurant)