As a young entrepreneur with three small businesses here in Duluth, I’ve witnessed the economic impact of the pandemic firsthand. I’m thankful the Northland has shown support for our local businesses during these times.

But as we think ahead into 2021, the uncertainty of the pandemic lingers on and many of my fellow small-business owners are echoing the same sentiments: Will we survive this? Will we be able to pay our employees, cover the mortgage, and put food on the table? Even companies with robust emergency funds are facing impossible decisions right now, and they need our sustained, unrelenting support — through this new year and beyond.

Juggling my companies — Cedar Bound, Bailey Aro Photography, and White Spruce Market — has been far from easy. For White Spruce Market, however, the pandemic has led to an unexpected increase in sales. White Spruce specializes in curated gift boxes featuring makers and artisans from around the region. Our mission is to spread joy and cultivate gratitude through thoughtful gifting. During the pandemic, our gifts have been helping people stay connected as they seek ways to show loved ones they care even when they can’t physically be together.

While the holiday season is typically good for us, even White Spruce is experiencing coronavirus-related growing pains. The pandemic created supply-chain delays, which affected our efficiency in both receiving products from makers and getting products shipped on time. Shortages of materials on the suppliers’ end created a ripple effect.

Knowing our boxes are a collective project and that each box is an investment in our partners, we decided to lean heavily into social media to address customers’ concerns and stay top of mind. At this time, 90% of our shopping traffic comes from responses to Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest posts. Whether it’s using Instagram Stories to engage directly with our followers, using Facebook’s Shops feature to direct traffic to our website, or periodic reminders about promotions, social media has been the glue holding our business together. We’ve also used our social channels to communicate with customers on shipping delays or shortages that we may be experiencing.

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So, what can you do to help local small businesses like mine? It falls on each of us to start “thinking small.” Share your favorite local brands on platforms like Facebook and Instagram. It’s a free, easy way to show support. Think about your regular purchases and ask yourself: Can I source this locally instead? By doing so, you pour money back into your community. And if you’re able, support restaurants and bars forced to shut their doors by ordering takeout, buying merch, and stocking up on gift cards. Each purchase means so much to a small-business owner.

Small businesses, makers, and artisans are the heartbeat of our community. “Shop local” isn’t just an empty sales pitch; it’s our collective rally cry. Now more than ever, our community must come together so that our small businesses can continue to thrive, even beyond the pandemic.

Here in the Northland, we’re blessed with a rich, vibrant community of creative-hearted small businesses. We are resilient, we are resourceful, and still we need and cherish your unrelenting support.

Bailey Aro Hutchence is the owner of three small businesses in Duluth: White Spruce Market (whitesprucemarket.com), Cedar Bound (cedarbound.com), and Bailey Aro Photography (baileyaro.com).