MISSOULA — There is no question that many owners of small businesses were nervous, wondering how holiday shopping was going to turn out.
Normally during the weekend after Thanksgiving -- on Shop Small Saturday -- consumers turn out in large numbers. But this year was a double-edged sword.
Money is tight and times are hard, but the shops lining our downtown streets -- their owners and employees -- are looking to the community for a little reassurance.
“If we want these businesses to survive the winter and be there, you know when we come out of the pandemic, it's up to us, it's up to us to choose where we spend our dollars and how we circulate our money in the local economy, Downtown Missoula Partnership executive director Linda McCarthy said.
The Missoula Downtown Partnership knew an event like Shop Small Saturday would be crucial for small businesses before heading into the slow, winter months.
But how do you encourage people to go out when every health expert is telling you to stay in?
“Based upon health protocols...we needed to do everything we could to sort of spread out the shopping and spread out the dining and spread out the season,” McCarthy explained.
From there, a message was born -- “put your money where your heart is.” McCarthy said instead of Shop Small Saturday, they’d pivot to Shop Small Season.
That campaign got picked up by Destination Missoula...the Chamber [of Commerce] -- all sort of shared the same kind of messaging. And then the state Small Business Development Center picked it up and did a statewide tour to showcase and promote local businesses.”
Those businesses, of course, were on board to stretch their holiday deals throughout the month.
“We set up, you know, headquarters outside and every week we got new promotions from our downtown businesses,” McCarthy told MTN News. “Sixty businesses every week submitting something different that they were doing to encourage people to come downtown.”
And as December unfolded, the community showed up.
“They weren't looking for the deal. They were really looking to support locally owned businesses to support their neighbors and friend,” McCarthy pointed out. “You know I've been out talking to businesses just this week and people are in a really good mood.”
“One of our retailers said her season has been “bananas.” She said she's gonna have more sales in December 2020 than she did in December 2019,” McCarthy added.
The holiday season may be coming to an end, but to shop small is an ongoing effort.
“On behalf of our entire downtown community, thank you Missoula. You are killing it. And we really appreciate everything you do to support our businesses,” McCarthy concluded.
McCarthy says she hopes to see the same outpouring of support for local bars and restaurants heading into the new year.