Local businesses are 'personality' of community: DeKalb County shop owners talk Small Business Saturday amid pandemic

Local leaders emphasize importance of Small Business Saturday

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Becky Beck Ryan, owner of Becky Beck’s Jewelry Store in DeKalb, said Small Business Saturday always has been a good concept to get behind, but the COVID-19 pandemic has really highlighted the importance of shopping locally.

Beck Ryan said she has been encouraging people to be more mindful about where they buy their gifts and to shop for those gifts early, especially with custom work on her end. She said it’s painfully simple: If people don’t want a local business to close, they should make an extra effort to shop locally.

“It’s really hitting home to the community,” Beck Ryan said. “They see it. They see those doors closing.”

Trademarked in 2010 by American Express, Small Business Saturday is the flip side to big-box store binge-shopping season staples such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday, both of which are observed around the Thanksgiving weekend.

Local shops have capitalized on the success of Small Business Saturday marketing, displaying “Shop Local” signs in the front windows of their downtown digs and inviting patrons to spend their money locally.

DeKalb Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Matt Duffy said the Chamber advocates for residents to shop locally year-round but especially during this time of year and amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said small local businesses tend to sponsor local sports teams and make donations benefiting the community. Additionally, the holiday shopping season is an imperative time to support these businesses if residents want to ensure they are able to recover from the effects of the pandemic, Duffy said.

“Because really the personality of the community is small businesses,” Duffy said.

Even with Northern Illinois University alumni visiting the area, it’s the smaller businesses and restaurants such as Pizza Pro’s or Fatty’s Pub & Grille that they recall fondly, Duffy said.

“They remember the unique stores that they can’t get in other communities,” Duffy said.

Rose Treml, executive director for the Sycamore Chamber of Commerce, underscored that same point, even if it could be easier to shop online through a business such as Amazon. She said studies have shown that local small businesses donate to the community at more than twice the rate of chains.

“It breaks my heart that our businesses are struggling and may be leaving our downtowns forever,” Treml said.

Treml said the city launched a social media challenge campaign encouraging people to buy gift cards from local businesses and give them as Christmas gifts.

She said it also could help to connect with favorite small businesses on social media platforms so residents can stay in tune with special sales.

“If we could think ahead, spend a little money locally ... that would be huge,” Treml said.

At the very least, Treml said she wants to urge people to keep their spending local if it’s not going to a small business. Even if it’s to buy gas or groceries, she tries to go the extra mile to get it in Sycamore whenever she can.

“People need to think that way,” Treml said.

Elizabeth Oparyk, owner of Lizzy’s Pink Boutique in Sycamore, said the pandemic has hit small businesses hard this year while big-box retailers profited during the initial statewide stay-at-home order.

Many nonessential businesses had to close. Her store was closed for 79 days, with more restrictions going into effect recently in light of the current surge in COVID-19 cases.

“Main Street can’t survive without our community’s support, and COVID-19 only made it more difficult to do in 2020,” Oparyk wrote in an email to the Daily Chronicle.

Ryan said it’s important not only to keep people in business but to keep customers comfortable. She said she knows everyone has different comfort levels in venturing outside, and she has appreciated customers calling ahead to request private appointments to satisfy their concerns. She said she’s even designed custom jewelry curbside.

“And in small business, I think it’s nice that we can accommodate everybody’s concerns,” Ryan said.

Ryan said she thinks that the COVID-19 pandemic has really made people grasp what’s truly important – and, she pointed out, hugs are pretty much nonexistent right now.

“I really think jewelry is that touch. ... It’s a hug that you can wear every day,” Ryan said. “That’s what keeps us going.”

Brenda Lehan, owner of Sports of All Sorts Apparel and Design in DeKalb, said she agreed that the pandemic has highlighted the importance of shopping locally, especially when a lot of businesses are so ingrained in the community in more ways than one.

“When you support a small business, you’re supporting a family,” Lehan said.

Lehan said she also wanted to emphasize for people to be kind during this holiday season. It’s a crazy time of the year for everybody in small business anyway, she said, and the pandemic only has heightened that craziness.

“We just need to be patient with each other and respect each other in what we do,” Lehan said.

Katie Finlon

Katie Finlon covers local government and breaking news for DeKalb County in Illinois. She has covered local government news for Shaw Media since 2018 and has had bylines in Daily Chronicle, Kendall County Record newspapers, Northwest Herald and in public radio over the years.