Eye On Illinois: Target local products to avoid supply chain concerns

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, unless you’re in retail, in which case every month seems to bring a new challenge.

Why open a late-September column with a Christmas allusion? Last year I didn’t start soliciting ideas for your favorite made-in-Illinois holiday gift ideas until Dec. 9, which means I’m about 11 weeks early. But retailers are already focused on the fourth-quarter crush, and not just because of creeping commercialization.

“The supply chain is even more disrupted this year,” read a Saturday tweet from Prairie Fox Books, and independent shop in downtown Ottawa. The store went on to reference “COVID-related labor shortages in publisher warehouses, printing capacity limitations and shipping issues,” but similar struggles seem to be facing all manner of enterprises.

We all remember the toilet paper shortages at the beginning of the pandemic, owing to a combination of hoarding and a sudden, dramatic shift in where many people spent the majority of their day rippling through the supply chain. If you’ve not shopped for a car recently, just take a closer look next time you roll by the nearest dealer and take note of the empty parking spaces usually filled with vehicles.

Heck, even chicken wings are at a premium, with one bar owner telling Shaw Media in May he was paying up to $100 more per case than just a year ago.

The bottom line, at least for those motivated by the bottom line, is to buy now. (Please, don’t purchase chicken wings in September for a late December presentation.) And while it’s difficult to offer blanket advice given the many moving parts in our modern economy, while also accounting for individual consumers’ tastes, it does seem like this might be a shopping season where it’s especially important to maintain a local focus.

Obviously supporting locally-owned businesses is generally a good way to help your spending fuel the immediate economy – and a much more likely source of personal, reliable information about how long it might take for a given item to arrive – but focusing on close-to-home products and experiences is the surest way to avoid the shipping and distribution delays giving rise to the current concern.

All of which brings us back to the Made In Illinois reader suggestion list. It’s hard to go wrong with gift certificates to locally owned shops and restaurants, but this year I’d love to hear about your favorite tangible goods created in the Land of Lincoln. Whether handmade pottery, custom furniture, art prints or something else, we’ll set aside some space in the coming weeks to shine a light on some of the unique offerings that deserve more attention.

There’s no sense waiting until December, the holiday shopping season has begun.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media. Follow him on Twitter @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.