THAT FIRST DAY of snow was pretty rad, watching the tiny little puffs delicately fall through the crisp, clear air and stick to the ground. The second day was pretty lovely, too. Maybe you were drinking Spanish Coffees at your neighborhood bar or staying cozy to catch up on Westworld. But then came day three... and day four... and the pleasantness began to dissipate. The snow hardened into an icy shell that threatened to Tokyo Drift your car into neighboring vehicles at the slightest provocation. We were collectively over it at that point... with our inboxes and workloads piling up exponentially, we were eager to get back to normal.
However, for our brick-and-mortar establishments, there’s a steep climb on an icy hill to get back to “normal.” After enduring a week of shop closures, employees losing shifts, and owners praying for customers, most shops will agree: That blew.
As a response to this crushing situation, shop owners are coming together to dream up proactive solutions to reinvigorate shoppers, diners, and supporters of vibrant neighborhoods, and it’s thanks to the work of Sarah Shaoul of Black Wagon, a beloved children’s boutique on North Mississippi. Sarah started a campaign called “Portland Supports Small Business Community Thru Winter Weather” with a mission to get people to look around their neighborhoods and get BUSY. With January already being a tough month for the retail and service industry, she began to see the immediate need for a collaborative, citywide activator to get our economy pumping.
When asked about the campaign’s concept, Shaoul said, “We’re all in this together, so I figured, let’s tackle this together with a louder, stronger voice and reach. Any small business impacted by this weather can join in as long as they are willing to offer 10 percent off their gift certificates.” (Note: Most certificates can’t be used in conjunction with other offers, discounts, and coupons, and must be purchased by January 31, 2017.)
With over 80 businesses (and counting) currently involved, Shaoul has shown us the power of activism as an owner and neighborhood ambassador. Thanks to her mobilization, these businesses are agreeing to cross-promote to encourage shoppers, while adding an array of events, sales, and other activities.
I asked a few well-known shop owners for some insight into the effects of inclement weather on local business and the city at large.
“It’s good for people to know that local retail is like a plant in your house. If you water the plant, it thrives, cleans the air, and looks beautiful. If you neglect the plant... well, this is how it goes with local retail. If you love something, you have to take care of it. If you love a store, frequent it, trek through the snow, walk through the door, and buy something—or don’t buy anything and bring the employees hot chocolate. That helps too!”
—Jared Mees, owner, Tender Loving Empire
“I want to thank the many customers who came out in the snow and shopped with us! Our customers support 19 amazing women who are going to school, raising families, and building careers. Though this is certainly not the way we wanted to start our New Year, I love how other small businesses have united to build a strong small business community and support each other.”
—Nicole Whitesell, owner, Adorn
“One of the most amazing aspects of Portland is its entrepreneurial spirit and the way that’s displayed in our vibrant and varied neighborhoods. Who wants to see a Starbucks on every corner? Portlanders are proud of our small businesses and the uniqueness they bring to our city. However, lately I’ve become a bit worried about the rise in chain boutiques and the closing of independent businesses. As rents increase we’ll likely see more of this. I hope Portland sees the danger ahead and reacts by putting their dollars into businesses that make their neighborhoods places where they love to live.”
—Erica Lurie, owner, Garnish
“When one segment of our small business community feels a significant hit, the reverberations extend to the rest of our community. We really need to stick together to help get each other through. And let’s remember to patronize each other’s businesses, too!”
—Sarah Shaoul, owner, Black Wagon
Whatever you think about our city, it’s brick-and-mortar businesses that define every inch of its value. If you lament the many closures of longstanding and beloved Portland places that couldn’t weather the “tides of change,” then vote with your dollar to support the businesses in your neighborhood.
See blackwagon.com for a list of participating shops and restaurants.