With COVID-19 leading to changes to Black Friday and shopping in general, shopping local is especially important now, according to Shop Local Searcy Chairperson Donna Rippey.

Saturday is Small Business Saturday, and Rippey said it is important for shoppers to go to local businesses because it supports the community and “we certainly want to keep our small businesses thriving.”

She said one of the things Shop Local Searcy has tried to do is highlight small businesses during certain seasons or just any time, and take pictures and put them on social media to remind people “these stores are open, these are the products that they have and we have a lot more locally than what people realize, and we definitely want people to shop local when they can.”

According to the Searcy Regional Chamber of Commerce, money spent at a local business generates 3.5 times “more wealth for the local economy.”

Overall holiday sales are expected to grow this year. For the November and December period, the National Retail Federation, the nation’s largest retail trade group, predicts that sales will increase between 8.5 percent and 10.5 percent. Holiday sales increased about 8 percent in 2020 when shoppers, locked down during the early part of the pandemic, spent their money on pajamas and home goods.

However, the pandemic in 2020 led many retailers to close stores on Thanksgiving Day, push discounts on their websites, starting as early as October, and start Black Friday sales earlier and for longer. That continued this year, although there are deals in stores as well.

Rippey said most area businesses, “even the newer ones, did begin an online presence and you could call and most places like Stotts [Drug Store] you could order over the phone or on your app during the height of COVID. When stores couldn’t let anyone in, they would bring things out and do curbside service.”

“I think everyone’s social media presence increased, which helps let people know they are open, what they have,” she said. “As COVID lessened, you could go in, mask wearing and social distancing were observed and they all tried to make shopping in their stores a good experience for everyone.”

Asked if she knew of any new small businesses that have opened up in the midst of COVID, Rippey said one of the best examples is Doorframes. “They opened up right before COVID started. From what I can see, they are thriving. They have good selections and they are usually very well stocked.

Smoothin’ and Groovin’ Juice Bar was another small business named by Rippey. “I believed they opened up during COVID.”

Terri Camp, owner of Doorframes at 208 N. Spring St., said when she was getting ready to open her business, “I didn’t know COVID was coming. .. We opened February the 3rd and six weeks later ... it was scary.”

She said opening the business was something she “had been wanting to do forever.”

“Searcy is wonderful,” Camp said. “Searcy has been so good and so encouraging and so supportive.”

She said her business coped with COVID by offering curbside pickups like other businesses, but also “did Poppy Grams. ... We carry Poppy Popcorn. People would call in and say, ‘I want to send a Poppy Gram to my son who lives somewhere.’ We delivered in Searcy.”

Otherwise, Doorframes did “the same things that other people did” last year to handle pandemic-related problems, including being involved in the Searcy Cash Mob effort to help keep small businesses afloat. “I was one of those so that was helpful and people have just been intentional about shopping local.”

Camp said she is encouraged these days about business, but “I don’t even know what normal is because I was only open six weeks” when the pandemic hit.

As a Christian, though, Camp said she believes “God’s got this. He knew about COVID way before I did and still allowed me to open this. Basically when all of hit, I was like ‘you know what? He knew it long before I did and I’m going to be fine.’”

She said one thing she has learned about owning her own business is “you really have to love it. You really do or you’d be miserable because I walk in here and I love this place. It’s just my happy place.

In regarding to shopping local, Camp said it is important “because you are keeping your money here in town and we all support each other, our friends, family and neighbors. I’m going to use that bank over there and I’m going to eat dinner at a restaurant down the street. We all just have to help each other.”

She said her business tries “to carry things you are not going to see in the big box retail stores. When I go to market, that is going to be the deciding factor, ‘Am I going to see this anywhere?’” She said Doorframes does have a website, but “we don’t really depend on that because it is about the experience [of coming into the store]. I think more and more people are hearing about us.”

Across the street from Doorframes is a business that has been around much longer, Stotts Drug Store at 103 W. Arch Ave. “It’s been owned by my family for 90 years, all the same family,” said Nancy Showalter, owner and pharmacist. “My grandfather started it. It is the oldest retail business in Searcy.”

“It is an honor to carry it on. My father was also a pharmacist. My grandfather started it, L.O. Stotts. He had a daughter who married my dad and my dad took over this store and he was a pharmacist.”

Stotts said although shopping has been changed some since 2020, she feels like things are getting back to normal. “The fact that people can come in now is very nice.”

She said when COVID-19 began, it was scary even though “the pharmacy was going strong during that time. ... Our front business with gifts and that stuff was basically shut down, totally shut down.”

Curbside and delivery service were ways to navigate through the virus, Showalter said. She said customers would call wanting to buy a gift “and we would help, giving them some choices over the phone and charge it to their credit card and they could come get it. We’d take it out to them.”

Camp said that Searcy businesses support one another and she called that “loyalty.”

“People need to come downtown to see how beautiful it is, especially at night,” she said. “Downtown Searcy, Main Street has done such a wonderful job making downtown beautiful again and I appreciate the work that they have done. There is a good network in the community [with small businesses]. Searcy is a loyal town and they are good at supporting small business.”

Supply chain hold-ups being a major concern this year was one of the reasons mentioned by Rippey that that local loyalty can be rewarded, and she added that it should be done before driving out of town as well “because Searcy has more selection and merchandise than people realize.”

“So I would say before you drive out of town look locally, look on social media for the different stores, see what you they have,” she said. “Let’s try to really keep these dollars in Searcy to help Searcy grow and thrive.

“Places like Sowell’s you think only has furniture, but they have smaller items. They have decorative items, lamps. Stotts has a great selection of jewelry and home decor. There are a lot of places like that that have a bigger variety than one might think.”

Showalter said her business sells stocking stuffers and others gift-type items and has a classic Coke cooler at the front of the store where bottles of Coke can be purchased.

“The old Coke machine in this store has been in the store longer than I have and it keeps the Cokes so cold,” she said. “They’re the coldest Cokes in town and a lot of people who have been gone from Searcy come back during the holidays and bring their children so they can experience that to.”

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