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Statewide #ShopSmallWV campaign encourages shopping locally

By CAITY COYNE

Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Katherine Shaver spent 10 months working for a corporate women’s clothing store before she wound up working at Taylor Books.

This month, West Virginia is starting its first “Shop Small in July” campaign, encouraging patrons to support shops like Taylor Books in downtwon Charleston instead of national corporate chains like Amazon and Walmart.
(Gazette-Mail file photo)

“Ten months, that’s all I could do before I quit and said, ‘I’m never doing this again,’” Shaver, who has worked at Taylor Books for three years, said. “Here, I feel like I’m a part of something. I enjoy coming to work — I can’t wait on some days.”

In Taylor Books’ June “not so monthly newsletter,” Dan Carlisle, the store’s manager, lamented on corporate competitor Amazon’s seemingly endless expansion efforts. The company is moving beyond a solely digital presence and is building brick-and-mortar bookstores across the nation. Amazon’s seventh such store opened its doors in New York City in May.

Carlisle wrote about what’s lacking in these stores — burnt-out light bulbs, pedantic customers arguing about obscure history, homemade scones and more.

“In short, [Amazon’s stores] have no personality,” Carlisle wrote. “I’d like to think that what we offer at Taylor Books cannot be touched by data-driven behemoths bent on world domination. Whether it be in our Annex Gallery, our cafe, our book selection or in the very atmosphere itself, there is an intangible quality to what we’re doing that, hopefully, will be enough to carry our business into the future for many years.”

This month, West Virginia is starting its first “Shop Small in July” campaign, encouraging patrons to support shops like Carlisle’s instead of national corporate chains like Amazon and Walmart.

The campaign is a joint effort between the West Virginia Small Business Development Center and the U.S. Small Business Administration’s West Virginia District Office. It’s an expanded version of Small Business Saturday, which will fall on Nov. 25 this year, where shoppers are urged to only spend their money at locally owned stores for the entire day.

“We want to encourage consumers to shop small year-round,” said Karen Friel , SBA’s West Virginia District Director, in a news release. “Shopping at local retailers puts more of your dollar back into your own community. More than 98 percent of employers in West Virginia are small businesses. ‘Shop Small in July’ and ‘Small Business Saturday’ are great reminders to make shopping small a regular routine.”

The development center uses social media to get consumers to show support for the more than 115,000 small businesses in the Mountain State. Customers are asked to post about their experiences shopping locally, tag the business in the post and check in using the #ShopSmallWV hashtag.

As these businesses prepare for the holiday shopping season in upcoming months, business can contact the development center to ask for pledge cards which customers can sign to show support for the stores as they shop locally.

“Our local small businesses need support from our shopping dollars year-round, especially during the critical winter holiday season,” said Erika Bailey, the development center’s state director, in the release.

Tammy Krepshaw, owner of the Consignment Company on Capitol Street, said small businesses are the lifeblood of any town or city, offering character and versatility that would otherwise not exist.

“You get personality, variety through these stores,” Krepshaw said. “Every business owner is different. They have different ideas of what they want, and they are able to offer different things to the community. Small business owners give a town more life.”

Krepshaw, who is not only the owner but the sole employee (except for a volunteer) at Consignment Company, moved to West Virginia from Illinois in 1992 and opened the store in 2001 — then on Quarrier Street. She said Charleston is very welcoming of small businesses and their owners, but there can be challenges operating in the city — specifically parking.

“I don’t know the answers for it, but I think we need modernized meters — something that allows you to use a credit card and pick a number of hours instead of limiting your time,” Krepshaw said. “I don’t think a lot of Charleston people come downtown regularly because of the parking situation.”

Convincing customers to park downtown is hard considering the parking available at the Charleston Town Center mall, where for $1.75, a person can park there for the entire day. Even with that challenge, Krepshaw benefits from being able to carry products that are not found in the mall.

“When I opened, I wanted women to be able to have nice clothes. I truly feel women deserve that opportunity, and monetary needs shouldn’t hold them back. Here, they can get quality clothes for a lot less,” Krepshaw said. “This keeps people coming back again and again.”

Like Krepshaw, Shaver sees regular customers at Taylor Books also. She thinks of them as a type of “extended family.”

“Especially, I think, they think of us family,” Shaver said. “We’re a part of their day, and they’re a part of ours, too.”

The freedom granted in working at a small business allows Shaver and her co-workers to tailor their store to the needs of their customers and their interests. An example, Shaver said, is the growth of the graphic novel section in the bookstore and the addition of a performing arts sections that came after the employees realized there were several theater enthusiasts who frequent the store.

The ability to do all this and get to know their customers adds warmth to what can otherwise be a very cold transaction, Shaver said.

Krepshaw encouraged anyone interested in supporting local businesses to visit the shops, and see what there is to offer.

“Visit them, you’ll find great, original gift ideas usually at cheaper prices,” Krepshaw said. “Local shops keep downtown — any town — alive. They’re the bones and energy of a city give them a chance.”

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