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‘Buy local or it’s bye local’: DeKalb County businesses gear up for Small Business Saturday

‘You either buy local or it’s bye local,’ said Lizzy Oparyk, owner of Lizzy’s Pink Boutique in Sycamore ahead of DeKalb County’s Small Business Saturday weekend

Bobbi Hays, owner of Robin's Nest Bookshoppe, helps Lily Kownacki, 10, from Monticello Tuesday, Nov 22, 2022, at the store in DeKalb.

Small Business Saturday is this weekend, but DeKalb County area businesses have taken the idea one step further this year with Shop Small Crawl, an initiative that runs from Saturday through Monday encouraging folks to buy local.

The countywide initiative, hosted by Blumen Gardens in Sycamore, includes participating businesses in DeKalb, Sycamore, Genoa and surrounding communities.

David Faron, owner of Seven Out Cards and Collectibles, 2180 Oakland Drive, Unit C, Sycamore, said his business got in on the program because he thinks it’s a good organic way to drive area consumers to lesser known retail options.

“I think things like that help, especially given a lot of the online retailing through Amazon and stuff like that,” Faron said. “It’s something that reminds the public that small businesses are still around and they’re important to communities. So we joined that with a bunch of other small businesses in the area to help promote each other.”

The Sycamore-based nursery, garden and event center Blumen Gardens helmed the campaign to celebrate local businesses during the holiday shopping season.

“They decided they wanted to make [small business Saturday] more of an event, more of a couple-day event that went along with the shop small Saturday,” Rose Treml, executive director of the Sycamore Chamber of Commerce, said of Blumen Gardens.

Treml said the point of programs such as Shop Small Crawl is to get local consumers to spend their money locally.

Shoppers seeking to get in on the Shop Small Crawl can go to Blumen Gardens, 403 Edward St., to pick up a punch card that has all of the participating businesses listed on it starting Saturday. Every five businesses marked off on a punch card that is returned to Blumen Gardens gives a shopper entry into a raffle to receive a $25 gift card from one of the participating shops.

Michelle Schulz, owner of Kar-Fre Flowers in Sycamore, gets the plants looking their best Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022, for the upcoming Small Business Saturday.

Michelle Schulz, owner of Kar-Fre Flowers, said her business at 1126 E State St. in Sycamore – which was started 50 years ago by her parents – has become part of a holiday tradition for area shoppers.

“As much as we love the idea of small business Saturday, we’re really excited that we’ve become part of the tradition of a lot of people’s family holiday season, and so that’s what we’re all about,” Schulz said. “And we’re all about ... reminding ourselves that it’s important to also pay attention to all the other businesses in the community.”

Matt Duffy, DeKalb Chamber of Commerce executive director, said the DeKalb Chamber encourages families to remember smaller stores are an option for buying holiday gifts.

“We always say shop local first and see what there is to offer, and from there you can fill in the gaps by other means,” Duffy said. “But it’s definitely an important time of year. It’s a big shopping time, big for retail and gifts and all those types of things, so we want to make sure our local businesses are on top of everybody’s mind.”

Visitors walk through a light snow Friday, Nov. 18, 2022, during the Sycamore Chamber of Commerce's annual Moonlight Magic event in downtown Sycamore.

Lizzy Oparyk, owner of Lizzy’s Pink Boutique, 303 W. State St. in Sycamore, said she speaks for a lot of business owners when she says small businesses in downtown municipalities – the ones she said create jobs and support area children’s sports teams – are still struggling after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“With small business Saturday coming up it’s so important for everyone to shop local because we’ve all worked so hard to keep our customers and employees safe during the pandemic and to stay in business during the pandemic,” Oparyk said. “We’re all trying so hard to remain in business during the 2022 economy. It’s been tough.”

Regularly patronizing small businesses can keep them afloat, even beyond normal holiday shopping.

“You either buy local or it’s bye local,” Oparyk said. “I just don’t know if a lot of us can take another year of how business has been.”

Bobbi Hays, owner of Robin's Nest Bookshoppe, helps Lily Kownacki, 10, from Monticello find the book she is looking for Tuesday, Nov 22, 2022, at the store in DeKalb.

Lauren Woods, owner of Cracker Jax, 118 N. Third St. in DeKalb, said she and her staff have been preparing themselves for Small Business Saturday.

“We’re completely ready,” Woods said. “The only thing I have to get is our hot chocolate now that we’re going to be serving to people.”

Woods said she anticipates it will be no ordinary day at the store come Saturday.

“It’s usually a really big day because people – local people and people from other areas also – come and shop because they want to support us small merchants because they want us to stay here and be prosperous,” Woods said.

Woods said she’s excited for the weekend.

“We’ll be really busy,” she said. “We’ll do lots of gift wrapping. We do complimentary gift wrapping. [We] got lots of new things just today. [We’re] expecting a few more things this week.”

Woods said she and her staff at Cracker Jax are ready for the increased demand and store traffic that typically comes with Small Business Saturday.

“We’ve got a full staff, so we’re ready for everybody,” Woods said. “We’ll be open 10 [a.m.] to 6. [p.m.]”

Woods said she has a surprise in store for some of the first patrons to enter the door come Saturday.

“We’re going to have 20% off on all Christmas decorations,” she said. “We’re going to give little trinket gifts to the first 40 people that come in. It’s kind of a secret and a surprise. … We’re going to have a couple gift certificate giveaways, too. Two $25 gift certificate giveaways. All they need to leave us is their name and phone or name and email, whichever is easier.”

Woods said that what separates Cracker Jax from the competitors is easy to pinpoint.

“[It’s] just our uniqueness of mixing the vintage and the new,” Woods said. “We do the vintage clothing, the new clothing, consignment. We carry lots of gifts, lots of kids things. We have a line of stuffed animals called Jelly Cat. We have an exclusive with them.”

Popular items at Cracker Jax vary, ranging from jewelry and purses to candles and essential oils.

Woods said she believes people should consider supporting local on Small Business Saturday.

“I think they care,” she said. “I really do they think they care about small businesses and our downtown. We have other merchants in the downtown that are going to be having the open house. We hope to attract a lot of people … to shop small.”

Kar-Fre Flowers in Sycamore is ready for shoppers this holiday season.

Elsewhere in DeKalb, Betsy and Todd Hendrey, the owners of The Confectionary, 149 N. Second St., are gearing up in preparation of the expected patrons eager to get their hands on a holiday treat.

“We’re wrapping up our production for the season,” Betsy Hendrey said. “We’re doing some more seasonal items right now in preparation for the holiday season, so we’re making sponge candy, peanut brittle. And we’re working on divinity soon.”

Hendrey said she and her husband are expecting a steady flow of business.

“We’re very busy starting the day after Thanksgiving and on Small Business Saturday,” she said. “We’re really humbled that a lot of local people try to patronize our small business. A lot people think of small businesses in the community when they do their shopping. We’re always appreciative of that. We do anticipate a lot of crowds, big crowds.”

Hendrey said they are ready for the increased website traffic and customer demand that typically comes with the season.

“A lot of people do pre-order on our website that started during the pandemic where they could do curbside pickup,” she said. “We just continued with it because it’s been very convenient for customers. It helps them shop at home if they’re still uncertain about going out.”

Hendrey touted the use of the candy store’s website and its ability to reach patrons, saying it’s now part of their business model they’ve embraced coming out of the pandemic shutdowns.

“Actually, we had it ready to go right before the pandemic started, and then suddenly the pandemic hit,” she said. “We were forced to put it up online live in response to the shutdown to keep our business going. It just really took off. It’s been wonderful.”

Handmade treats are a standout at The Confectionary, she said.

“We do everything handmade,” Hendrey said. “A lot of other candy stores maybe have more machine-made chocolates that are shipped to them. We make everything right here in-house. We do personalized decorations. A lot of our recipes are made from scratch. We make the components to the ingredients. For example, with fudge. We make our own ingredients for the fudge rather than like a power mix for the fudge.”

Hendrey said she believes customers recognize and appreciate what The Confectionary has to offer.

“It takes a lot of labor, but we’ve found that we don’t want to compromise on the quality,” she said. “We could move to machines potentially, but the quality stays where it is because we have our hearts in it.”

Popular items at The Confectionary vary, ranging from the sea monster and the caramel pecan and chocolate to the assorted boxes.

For the Hendreys, seeing familiar faces in town makes DeKalb holiday shopping season extra special.

“The community spirit in own town right now is just wonderful,” she said. “I think supporting local businesses keeps the downtown more vibrant. It builds community. If everything is done online, it’s not the same feel. You’re supporting a local family. In our case, a couple of families who a lot of families work here. You’re really doing a lot to help the community keep jobs here in town.”

Lily Kownacki, 10, from Monticello reads with her sister Hazel, 8, Tuesday, Nov 22, 2022, at Robin's Nest Bookshoppe in DeKalb.

Bobbi Hays, owner of Robin’s Nest Bookshoppe, 218 E. Lincoln Highway in DeKalb, said she has been busy placing orders, decorating, stocking and advertising in preparation for Small Business Saturday.

“This is only our second year,” Hays said. “We opened in April of 2021. … Last year we had a good Saturday. It really helps that Blumen Gardens sponsors a small Shop Small [Crawl]. It allows people to have a good view of all the different stores that are participating and what’s available in different towns that are participating.”

Hays said she welcomes readers of all ages to stop by and check out what the store has to offer.

“We love books obviously, but we know that it’s hard,” she said. “You want to do as much one-stop shopping as you can when you’re out Christmas shopping. We have a lot of neat, not just Christmas ornaments, but stocking stuffers and gift ideas that people can give, as well as books. … That’s something different from last year. We’ve been able to expand our offerings both in books. We’re really hopeful that people will come in and be able to take advantage of those this season.”

Popular items at the bookstore vary, ranging from books and puzzles to mugs and organic teas. The DeKalb bookstore stocks based on community interests, too.

“We’re an independent bookstore,” Hays said. “What that means is that we don’t have a corporate office telling us what to order. So, what we do is we listen to the community. When we opened, we opened with a very slim inventory. We did that intentionally. We believe in being a community bookstore. To be a community bookstore, you have to listen to the community.”