The best way to shop is to shop local, and this holiday season that’s truer than ever. With the COVID-19 pandemic impacting small businesses since March—forcing some to close for a period of time and limiting foot traffic into stores—this is the perfect time for North Shore residents to help our small shops, boutiques, and restaurants bounce back.
The North Shore Weekend interviewed executives from area chambers of commerce and owners of small businesses throughout the North Shore about the challenges and opportunities for the upcoming holiday shopping season, and found they are cautiously optimistic, geared up and ready to offer a safe shopping environment. This year, rather than feed the big box stores and online retailers like Amazon, think about supporting the shop around the corner.
LAKE FOREST/LAKE BLUFF
With its “Think Local First” holiday initiative, the Lake Forest/Lake Bluff Chamber of Commerce aims to promote local shopping at businesses in the area. This includes an online ecommerce guide that showcases businesses on the chamber’s Website (lflbchamber.com), Facebook groups focused on promoting shopping locally, a “Turning the Tables to Serve Up Support” movement for restaurants, and a promoting “Gifts that Give” campaign to encourage contributions to nonprofits.
The chamber is also selling gift certificates, a popular gift choice that can be redeemed at local businesses and keeps dollars in town, according to Joanna Rolek, the chamber’s Executive Director. It is also sponsoring special events in both Lake Forest and Lake Bluff featuring holiday window displays in both downtowns that showcase festive art, community participation, and nonprofit promotion.
“Shopping locally and keeping dollars in town has always been important but now it is critical to community health. The same businesses that have supported our kids’ teams, groups’ fundraisers, and are owned by friends and neighbors are now struggling to keep their doors open,” Rolek says. “We must make every effort to keep our dollars and sales tax revenue in our communities. If our businesses can keep their lights on through this dark winter, then we will all win in the end.”
Rolek adds that, like many North Shore communities, Lake Forest and Lake Bluff are fortunate to have the generous support of municipalities through financial assistance and also the facilitation of creative accommodation for onstreet dining, delivery stops, licensing changes, and more.
Missy Crowe, who owns M on the Square, a full-service floral and home accessory shop in Lake Forest, says her business participates in all of the promotions and activities the chamber has to offer because of the emphasis on shopping local.
“If you don’t shop local, you won’t have a town to go to,” Crowe says. “When your family comes to visit, you won’t have a square to walk to.”
This holiday season, Forest Bootery in Lake Forest is holding a holiday gift sale through November 30. Shoppers receive 30 percent off every second item purchased. The store is also providing free gift wrapping. For those who prefer, the store offers shopping by appointment, and plenty of inventory is available on the store’s website at forestbootery.com.
“Now more than ever, your local retailers need your support. Dollars spent in town ultimately affect the resale value of your home, the education of your children, and the sense of community in your town,” says Forest Bootery owner, Cara Garrison. “If 2020 has taught us anything it is that touching, feeling, and interacting while out shopping is a blessing. To insure that retailers will be there in the future, shoppers need to do this as much as their comfort level allows.”
Ellen Stirling, owner of the Lake Forest Shop, an iconic boutique that sells designer women’s clothing, says small businesses offer a refreshing antidote to the experience consumers have with the dominant online retailers.
“Because we have built our business on relationships and our customer is our best friend, we really know what they want and what they want is an experience,” Stirling says. “Our customers want to touch and feel the fabric and to shop like that.”
This season, the Lake Forest Shop is offering a number of discounts on some of its more popular lines, including 20 percent off some dresses and sportswear and selected jewelry. More details at thelakeforestshop.com.
Given all that has transpired for business owners the past nine months and all of the challenges they’ve faced with the pandemic and those that lie ahead, Stirling still strikes a hopeful note for the future. She sees more people getting out of the house to do a little shopping.
“I think the pendulum is going to hopefully swing more in that direction,” she says.
The Village of Wilmette and the Wilmette/ Kenilworth Chamber of Commerce have collaborated all year on its “Wilmette-onomics” campaign to support small businesses, and that effort continues through the holidays, according to Julie Yusim, Executive Director of the chamber. The campaign is overseen by a committee that includes representatives from the village, the chamber, and a marketing group.
“Like everywhere, Wilmette’s businesses are facing many challenges due to the pandemic. I think they are all concerned about Governor JB Pritzker’s latest order and restrictions,” Yusin says. “Above all, they want to keep customers and staff as safe as possible, while still finding ways to earn a living.
They have done an outstanding job of pivoting and making use of virtual platforms, e-commerce, curbside pick-up, delivery, and private shopping appointments, and they will make use of all of these for the busy holiday season.”
Karen O’Sullivan, the owner of Share in Wilmette, says her shop—which sells home decor, apparel, personal accessories, and gifts—is offering a number of promotions this holiday season. including a $20 reward that can be used in 2021 for every $100 spent on Black Friday and Cyber Monday More info at that can be found at shopsharewilmette.com.
“We do a little happy dance every time our customers demonstrate how important it is to them to shop local,” O’Sullivan says. “We are doing everything we can to make it all a little easier and enjoyable to shop. We love that so many of our customers feel a sense of “aahh’ when they come into our shop and understand that online isn’t quite the same, but when you shop online with us you are still shopping local.”
Chalet Nursery in Wilmette has a century of history in the community, and Michi Kustra, Director of Marketing, says the business is feeling its deep local connections during these challenging times.
“We know firsthand that no local company can thrive without loyal customers, and we are so grateful for everyone’s support throughout this challenging year,” Kustra says. “Many local businesses like ours are doing everything we can to survive under these unprecedented circumstances and to make our store a safe place to shop.”
To that end, Chalet—which sells a broad range of holiday decor, including trees—is offering a number of promotions this holiday season. Customers who come into the store, take a selfie with Santa’s reindeer, and post it publicly to Facebook or Instagram, will receive a $10 gift card. The store will also be participating in Shop Local Weekend on November 5 and 6. Customers who sign up for Chalet’s email promotions or like its Facebook or Instagram page will receive 25 percent off one item at the register. On Cyber Monday, customers who order more than $200 online will receive $50 off. Please visit chaletnursery.com for full details.
In addition to the challenges with the pandemic, retailers and restaurants in Wilmette are also faced with the issue of streetscape construction on Central Avenue, and the “Wilmette-onomics” committee has been tasked with helping consumers navigate construction detours and find parking in order to shop.
New this season is a text messaging program that residents can join to get notifications of events and special offers from businesses. Residents can join by texting WIL to 55698. The chamber has also sent out postcards encouraging residents to shop at local businesses.
A number of special events are lined up for this holiday season, including a “Best Dressed” Holiday Window Decorating Contest. The village is encouraging all businesses to get in on the holiday spirit by decorating their windows around the theme, “Home for the Holidays.” Shoppers can vote for their favorite through December 18. The village is also sponsoring a “Game of Gnomes” scavenger hunt, through December 18.
Residents can download a “Game of Gnomes” game card at wilmetteonomics.com/holiday. Players look for hidden gnome stickers in business windows and write in the business’s name when the stickers are found. Clues will be released on the Wilmettebiz Facebook and Instagram pages. Once all the gnomes are found players can drop their game cards off at the Wild Child toy store for a chance to win gift cards from local businesses.
For those with charity on their minds this holiday season, the Wilmette/Kenilworth Chamber is promoting its “12 Days of Giving,” designed to support local charities. On November 27 and 28, a percentage of sales from local businesses will be allocated to Family Service Center; a percentage of sales on December 3-5 will go to District 39 Educational Foundation, on December 10-12 to Wilmette Theatre, and on Dec. 17-19 to the Woman’s Club of Wilmette. More details can be found at wilmettekenilworth.com.
This year, for the 41st time, Winnetka and Northfield businesses will be participating in Red Invitation, an annual holiday shopping spree that promotes shop local. The event, which will take place on Sunday, December 6, features sales and promotions from many local businesses, including free gift wrapping and festive activities. It’s just one of a number of efforts sponsored by the Winnetka Northfield Chamber of Commerce to promote local businesses.
“It’s our lifestyle. If we don’t have people shopping locally and trying to help these businesses during this very dire moment in our history then we’ll lose them,” says chamber Executive Director Terry Dason. “We won’t have the same lifestyle when we can go back to what will be our new normal in the future.”
Dason says the chamber has been able to work closely with the Village of Winnetka on incentives such as sales tax rebates to provide some relief for small businesses that have seen a downturn in sales due to the pandemic.
“I live in the community, every one of my staff members live in the community, and we shop in the community,” Dason says. “The chamber is a significant information source to make sure that our businesses know how to survive during this environment.”
In addition to Red Invitation, the chamber is also sponsoring its Open Air Holiday Market on Saturdays and Sundays through December 6, and a Holiday Window Decorating Contest, with voting open through December 6. Visit winnetkanorthfieldchamber.com for additional details.
Peyton Miller owns and operates Bunny & Babe, a Winnetka women’s clothing and accessories shop that opened in February. Hers is one of many businesses that are participating in Red Invitation on December 6. Bunny & Babe will be offering 15 percent off everything in the store that day. While the store is usually closed on Sunday it will open its doors on all Sundays during December and offer 10 to 15 percent off selected giftable items. Visit bunnyandbabe.com for more information.
Miller says the shop’s significant Instagram following has helped them get through some of the tough times when she had to close Bunny & Babe due to the pandemic, helping to drive online sales. She says a big emphasis since the shop’s reopening is to make sure customers feel safe.
“We put our COVID-19 guidelines on the front door so people walking by from Starbucks or going to neighboring retailers can read them,” Miller says. “That’s a good way to let people know that we’re on top of all the protocols and keeping our customers safe. We also communicate that through social media and email.”
Ashley Quicksilver, who runs athene, a women’s clothing store in Winnetka, says her shop will be offering holiday discounts throughout the season on various categories of items in the store, and that she’s grateful for those committed to shopping local.
“We are so fortunate to have so many wonderful local shops that provide a special shopping experience so close to home,” Quicksilver says.
“During this pandemic, there seems to be a sense of safety and security in shopping locally, and at athene, we have been touched by the outpouring of support that we have received from the community this past year.”
Winnetka’s Bedside Manor, which sells elegant bedding and other home luxuries, is celebrating its 35th Anniversary this year and as a “thank you”, customers can shop online or in any of the store’s three locations (also in Lincoln Park and Lake Forest) and enter to win a complete bedding set. Other promotions include 20 to 25 percent off selected popular bedding and bath brands through November 30. More information can be found at bedsidemanor.com.
“We feel lucky to be running a local business for 35 years and want to continue to see our local stores succeed,” says Annie Colegrove of Bedside Manor. “Especially in the current environment, it is amazing to see people shopping small.”
Peachtree Place in Northfield is another business that will be participating in the Winnetka Northfield Chamber’s Red Invitation. For the store, which sells home accessories, jewelry, and products for babies and children, it comes at just the right time.
“It’s going to be different this year but we’re grateful to keep our doors open,” says owner Lucy Callahan. “We do 50 percent of our business this time of year, so this season is so important to us.”
Callahan will be offering a number of specials in Peachtree’s 7,000-foot showroom to celebrate Red Invitation on December 6. Information about promotions can be found at peachtreeplaceonline.com.
“I have customers who walk in and say, ‘I wouldn’t know what to do if you weren’t here’,” Callahan says. “Now more than ever, the best thing people can do is to emphasize shopping local.”
The City of Highland Park, the Highland Park Chamber of Commerce, and the Downtown Highland Park Alliance are running a number of ongoing initiatives designed to boost local business during the holiday season.
The Downtown Highland Park Alliance has created a specialized and localized version of Amazon to encourage online. local shopping over the holidays. The one-stop shop, online marketplace showcases gift-giving ideas from local businesses and makes it easy to purchase gift cards. It can be accessed by visiting downtownhp.com.
“With more consumers shopping online, but still wanting to support their local downtown business district, we wanted to offer an easy alternative to Amazon and similar shopping sites,” says Hal Emalfarb, Chairman of the Board of Downtown Highland Park Alliance. “The Downtown Highland Park online Marketplace offers our small businesses an easy way to prosper through online sales, offering their products and services through this convenient marketplace to a virtual shopping community.”
Shop the Block, sponsored by the City of Highland Park, encourages customers to shop at local retailers and have a chance to win a gift card to a full-service restaurant of their choice (good for carry-out, delivery, or dine-in when allowed per state guidelines).
A block of Highland Park retail shops is assigned each week between November 1 and January 2. When individuals submit receipts of $150 or more from each week’s designated block, they will be entered to win a $50 gift certificate to the Highland Park restaurant of their choosing.
The Highland Park Chamber of Commerce is also hosting a virtual, “Keep the Cheer Here!” Holiday Celebration and Community Toast on December 3. RSVPs are required at chamberhp. com.
Carolyn Hersch, City of Highland Park Business Manager, says that in addition to making purchases, booking a personal FaceTime shopping appointment, a virtual workout, or ordering meals from local restaurants for delivery, residents can also offer support by giving a shoutout to their favorite local shop on social media or just interacting with business owners and letting them know what they mean to the community.
“We are all anxious for life to return to ‘normal’—or what promises to be our new normal when the COVID-19 crisis is over,” Hersch says. “But to do so, we need to take steps now to help local businesses that are a vital part of our community fabric so they will be around when the pandemic is over.”
Local businesses in Highland Park are also getting in on the fun. Style Shack, a gifts, jewelry, and home accessories store, is holding Blackout Week, with discounts of 20 percent on different categories of products each day through November 30. Dawn Pyle of Style Shack says the goal is to incentivize customers with different product discounts on select days and also to promote social distance by creating shopping hours for different demographics. More details can be found at styleshacklife.com.
Style Shack has upgraded its air filtration system, placed social distancing reminders throughout the store, installed plexiglass barriers at checkout, and added private, in-store and FaceTime shopping appointments to help customers feel safe.
“We believe that our community must stand by our local retailers, service providers, and restaurants,” Pye says. “There is no need to shop Amazon when most of what’s available there can be found and delivered locally.”
At Citywoods, a gallery and gift shop in Highland Park, Diana Schaps is offering 15 percent off the shop’s jewelry collection from Black Friday through Cyber Monday. Schaps says the store offers teleshopping, which includes a FaceTime call as staff will walk customers through the Citywoods Website (citywoods.com) so they can find what they are looking for.
“No matter how we as a society transition to more online shopping, for so many reasons there is always a desire and a need for quality local retail and restaurants that build relationships and business together,” Schaps says. “It’s an extended family, and an enriched life.”
While the Highwood Chamber has had to cancel its annual Holiday Fest, always held the Saturday after Thanksgiving, children may be interested in the city’s “Drive By Santa,” compliments of the Highland Park Fire Department. The event will be held around 4 p.m. on Saturday, November 28.
Also on November 28, which is Small Business Saturday, the chamber is sponsoring “Spend Local, Win Local” to encourage patronage of Highwood Businesses. The chamber is asking shoppers to send in their receipts from that day for a chance to win a $50 gift certificate.
Highwood businesses will participate in a window decorating contest, the winner receiving a free membership to the chamber and a cash prize generated by the votes. Residents can cast a vote for $1 for their favorite window on the chamber’s Website (highwoodchamber.com). Highwood residents are also being encouraged to take a holiday picture at their favorite Highwood location and then share it to the chamber’s Facebook page for a chance to win prizes.
These initiatives are all part of an effort to keep shopping local and boost businesses in Highwood, says Teresa Lippert, currently filling in for chamber Executive Director Carolyn Cerf, who is on maternity leave.
“We truly believe in shop local and encourage it year-round, especially in the holiday season,” Lippert says. “Some of our local events draw people to the area who may never have been to Highwood or perhaps known about a local business.”