Small business Saturday is not a new concept this year, but in a time when so many small business are either disappearing or at a huge risk due to COVID, it feels especially important to find ways to give them our help where we can. As so many larger companies continue to grow among the pandemic, it’s the smaller shops, retailers, and restaurants that are hurting the most. While it’s important to find ways to patronize these businesses more than one day a year, Small Business Saturday can be a good reminder or jumping off point to discover some of the excellent options around. This year, it’s also a good opportunity to find small businesses that support the missions we find some important this year, whatever they may be.
For me, since the lockdown began, supporting some smaller businesses with missions that align to my values has been important. I wish I did better, I still buy so much stuff online and the main reason I didn’t buy a single thing on Black Friday was because I loaded up on Prime Day, not just because I wanted to make a statement. But still, since we first realized we needed to order coffee monthly with our work from home schedules and that with this, we could support Black and women owned coffee roasters that in turn support fair farming practices and still enjoy some incredible coffee, we have been looking for more opportunities to support the businesses that do good work.
I would say that right now, the causes that feel most important to me are the climate and environment, supporting Black and other minority owned businesses, in particular indigenous cultures, and encouraging gender quality. While each of these demand different focus and efforts far beyond simply shopping, every little bit helps. It’s not always possible to find ways to support small businesses through all shopping, obviously a TV or pair of wireless headphones probably isn’t going to help any of these causes or come from a small business, but there are a tremendous number of other places to help out. Whether it’s choosing a food brand based on the cause, shopping local, or buying gift cards for the holidays to support a local restaurant, it’s the perfect time to help out small companies.
Earlier this year, we first started supporting some small coffee roasters when we found that without having office coffee, we were going through about eight cups a day while working from home. Rather than heading to Starbucks every day or stocking up on Nespresso pods, we found some excellent artisan whole beans from a variety of roasters that help out great causes. While this much coffee consumption and the bean growing isn’t helping the climate cause, we at least found some roasters that are doing their best to support ethical farming and support the local workers. Black and White Coffee from NC has become a favorite with the best anaerobic roasted beans I’ve found, a huge selection, and very fast shipping. In 2020, it felt important to support black-owned businesses like Black and White where possible to do just a little to remedy the rampant inequality in the country and in some many traditionally white-dominated fields. Another Cxxffee Black, had some incredible dark roasted beans and continues to win numerous awards.
It was surprisingly hard to find any “local” black-owned coffee roasters. New Jersey and even New York City didn’t appear much at least on the lists I was able to find. The ones I did find didn’t tend to offer shipping to us currently. While I’m keeping an eye out, we set our sights a bit further afield to support other businesses as well. After the election, feelings about Philadelphia, Minneapolis, and Atlanta were all high, and I wanted to help out smaller businesses in those cities. In Philly, our friends found coffee from Elixr coffee, which while not Black-owned, does support communities where they grow in Ethiopia and Guatemala. In Minneapolis, City Girl Coffee also has some incredible beans and a great mission to support women farming communities where they source from as well as being comprised of an entirely female board. Lastly, from Atlanta, the Black-owned Portrait Coffee has numerous single origin roasts that are perfect for a cold winter.
Up next on my coffee list is a goal to support Indigenous communities. As a population frequently ignored or outright persecuted, yet one that shows up consistently in big ways when the country needs them, from supporting environment and climate causes like rallying against pipelines and the land grab at Bears Ears, to record voter turnout, we want to support them as well. I found a few, but one that stuck out and will be my next order is Spirit Mountain Coffee in CA. A Native-owned business that also sources and supports native tribes in places like Columbia and Costa Rica, as well as one that is developing sustainable practices like biodegradable bags, I’ll definitely be trying them out next.
Another item I’ve been flying through while working at home is cereal. I have a bowl just about every morning, so we go through a ton. For a change of pace from the big boxes of conglomerate cereal, I ordered some from the woman-owned and operated OffLimits Cereal. They are big supporters of equity for women in business and even created female mascots, a rarity in the cereal space. Though the mascots may be designed to give little girls a positive role model, the cereal itself is definitely designed for adults. The one I ordered actually contains cold brew coffee that mixes with the milk so after finishing the cereal there is a bowl of coffee left. In addition to the vast quantities of coffee I’m drinking on a daily basis, this cereal definitely helps get through the day.
Maybe the reason I need so much coffee is related to the number of local breweries I’m also supporting. Besides buying local when I get ingredients for homebrewing my own beer at a small shop, there are numerous small independent breweries around us. Most of the country now has a huge number of craft brewers nearby, but in NJ we’re especially lucky to have a half dozen breweries all within about 40 minutes. There are probably 20 or so within about an hour. In northern NJ, there are even a few Black-owned breweries, especially rare in the heavily white-male-dominated brewing scene. I couldn’t find a single woman-owned brewery in NJ, and there were less than a handful in the whole country. I’d like to see that change. The two we picked up a large Thanksgiving and winter order from were Montclair Brewery and the new Four City Brewing in Orange. Both have a large selection of interesting and unique brews from traditional styles found at most breweries to brews embracing their cultural roots like the IPA with Baobab fruit from Africa.
It also doesn’t have to just be food purchases that support causes. When I finally ran out of notebooks from work, I discovered Field Notes did a series of notebooks with the National Park system that support the parks directly. I am a huge fan of the parks so not only having a reminder of some of our favorites like Zion and Yosemite, but actively helping them out was a great way to solve multiple problems.
When it comes to supporting small local businesses, it often comes down to just making the choice to do some research and seek options instead of the ease and convenience of shopping from a huge online retailer. This year was nearly the year we bought an artificial Christmas Tree online instead of getting a real one, for the convenience and to stay at home. However, after a little bit of research, I found that a real tree has less negative impact on the environment than I realized, and much less compared to a fake tree. It also allowed us to shop at a local farm stand instead of buying from a big store or online, as well as supporting the local economy.
In addition to this, I ended up foregoing the Black Friday shopping this year. It’s not fair to say it was completely out of principle since we bought a ton for Prime Day, but rather than adding some more stuff to our house based on deals, we decided it was better to stick with the things we already have. While there are tons of small businesses online and you can actually find them highlighted on Amazon and other sites, we figured it was best to pause our consumption of new things and keep using what we already have.
This year saw numerous issues highlighted in dramatic fashion. The hottest year on record with a record number of powerful storms causing widespread devastation. Social injustices highlighted again and again and again. The killingsof George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless others. COVID exposing the differences in response and care for minority communities and destroying the careers of a far greater proportion of women than men. These aren’t going away anytime soon, but big changes can start with small movements. Being more thoughtful about what we buy and how we buy it can be one of those small ways. It’s time to start effecting change at every level, and making adjustments to our shopping is one place to begin.