Features Muse

Lockdown Local: Supporting independents in challenging times

MUSE’s Features Editors talk to local businesses about how we can support them during the run-up to Christmas

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Image Credit: Lit/@helenadolby

Throughout the pandemic, lockdowns have spelt difficult times for local businesses. Lacking many of the organisational capacities of chains, they have been forced to adapt or perish; some have already shut up shop. By the end of Lockdown 2.0, the number of weeks where non-essential stores will have been closed this year will total 17, emphasising just how important it is to support your local online. The Features team here at MUSE decided to contact some Yorkshire businesses to find out how they are tackling this unusual Christmas period, and how we as consumers can support them as we wait for normal times to resume. Read on to find out the variety of gifts available from local businesses in York, and how you can get your hands on them.

The Pouring House

The Pouring House, founded in 2020, is a Yorkshire-based company selling handmade soy wax melts. Their founder told us that, having been set up during the pandemic, conforming to the restrictions was not so much of a challenge as they had never been able to do it differently: “we pretty much had to build the business around the issues and restrictions and have always been Covid aware and safe.” But for the seasoned consumer, however, it is clear this Christmas will be a greater culture shock. They believe this festive season will see a shift in what is bought, not only how it is obtained: “it’s not as easy as just nipping to a shop and picking the first thing you see.” Given the current restrictions, this shift from in-person Christmas shopping to online gift-buying seems inevitable, with media outlets predicting that it is likely to benefit larger businesses like Amazon.

However, having recently been “accepted to sell on Amazon Handmade”, The Pouring House proves that it is possible for small and local businesses to carve their own niche within the system. From talking to them, it’s clear that there is a real opportunity to make this Christmas an inclusive, positive experience for sellers and customers alike despite the ongoing restrictions. The business has been active on social media, “try[ing] to reply to everyone who contacts us to build up a customer relationship,” and becoming “a little community” in the process, showing that the move to online shopping doesn’t have to compromise the connection between brands and their customers.

Lit

Turning to another 2020 start-up, Lit, it becomes apparent that the spirit of optimism is definitely alive and well for many small businesses. Heather, the founder of Lit, explains to us that her company creates sustainable, premium quality scented candles, and she believes it is the quality and ethics of her business that will allow it to continue its successes in the new year, even amidst the ongoing repercussions of the pandemic. Whilst the temptation to buy from bigger businesses is heightened in a time where online visibility is key, Heather believes that “the beauty of many local businesses is in the strength of their offer – we don't need to shout about local offers for the sake of it, we genuinely have great quality products at competitive prices that rival many mainstream brands.”

Furthermore, the online scene for local business is beginning to open up, as Heather explains: Lit is signed up for The Hepworth Wakefield Online Christmas Fair, an event made virtual by the circumstances of the pandemic. The presence of this event, and these local businesses founded in response to the pandemic, embody the silver lining of positive change that may result from it. Heather suggests to us that the pandemic has changed consumer habits in more than one way, with businesses changing their practises to accommodate the new climate: “I can't believe how early Christmas shopping has started [...] I'm trying to be as organised as possible and order anything I might need way in advance, just like these early Christmas shoppers!” At the same time, there is a recognition among local businesses that the pandemic has not only affected the seller but also the consumer. Heather acknowledges that “this is a very difficult and uncertain time for many, so even if you can't buy from them, following on socials and leaving positive reviews or comments is a huge benefit.”

Pam Goodison’s glass art

It was heartening to hear from Pam Goodison, an artist specialising in glass pieces, about her positive experience and the support she is receiving for her business. Marketing her business on Facebook as Pam Goodison Glass Artist, she creates unique, handmade gifts from stained glass. In more normal times, she offers workshops for people who want to get involved in the crafting themselves; due to the pandemic, she has created glass kits for people to make at home. However, she tells us that due to incredible online support, through Facebook and a number of selling groups, business has been really busy and she is planning a series of workshops for 2021 when the restrictions are hopefully less stringent.Pam commented that the gift industry has definitely changed since Covid with many more people buying local and handmade: “they are putting more thought into what they can give and are looking for more bespoke items or personalised items.” She suggests that these customers are turning towards independent businesses and the crafting community for these kinds of gifts, the community having united together to support each other in difficult economic times: “the crafting community appears to be trying to support each other by buying from each other. All my Christmas presents this year are from small independent retailers and many have been made specially to my requirements .” Pam would like to express a huge thank you to all her customers this year, new and old: “I could not have continued trading without them.”

We were able to connect with the above businesses through an online Christmas Market, set up to serve the local businesses and customers of Yorkshire. The Facebook group, set up as a solution to the many cancelled physical markets, provides the means for smaller independent businesses to spread word about their business, gaining followers and customers. Despite being founded just over two weeks ago, The Official Yorkshire Online Christmas Market has already gained over 23,000 members and counting. Businesses can apply for a virtual “stall”, allowing them to create a post in the group showcasing their products and contact details, which then appears on the timeline of members. The initiative has been welcomed positively from customers and sellers, with Pam Goodison commenting that it allows businesses to “get to a much bigger audience much more quickly and [all] without people leaving the comfort of their home.”

Whilst this is an immediate form of relief during a time when reasons for leaving the home are strictly limited, it may be a measure that can be continued alongside the return of in-person Christmas shopping in a post-pandemic future. For people who are unable to leave the home for other reasons - or simply prefer to shop online - such spaces open up the varieties of gifts on offer, and allow a wider range of customers to shop local. It could definitely be described as a win-win situation for local businesses and customers. For Lit, the potential of online markets is “a way for us to come together and compete with bigger companies.”

With this in mind, we turned to two York city food businesses that are attempting to wedge their way between the customer and an ever-ready selection of chains available on Deliveroo.

York Gin

Speaking to local distillery York Gin, we found out how the second lockdown has impacted their business and Christmas trade. It was clear that as with many other retailers, the second national lockdown has had a particularly harsh impact on the sector – “Most of our trade comes from pubs, bars and restaurants in York and the surrounding area. Demand from these has sunk to nothing.” Yet, what seems to be helping York Gin and many other smaller local retailers, is their online trading and marketing via social media (@york_gin). One challenge however prevails for local business in the online market, and that is attempting to compete with large online conglomerates. York Gin mentioned that “even though there is a big #shoplocal movement, it’s difficult for small businesses to compete with the likes of Amazon”, which is why it is so important to support local businesses in the holiday period.

If stimulating the local economy is not enough reason to buy locally, York Gin are also 100% plastic-free and run on 100% green electricity, an incredibly impressive environmental feat. Their limited edition Chocolate and Orange Gin is set to be their Christmas best seller and is already beating sales records, showing how local businesses have adapted even in spite of new restrictions.

Supporting Local Cafés – Crumbs Cupcakery

We’ve heard from local gift businesses, but how can we support our local independent cafés and satisfy that sweet tooth? A one-minute walk from the Minster, local cupcakery Crumbs Cupcakery run by twins Jen and Charlotte, have had to adapt their business to survive during lockdown. However, luckily lockdown has given the pair more time to bake cakes and meet the high demand of their new order and delivery service. In terms of navigating the new “Covid café” they are no longer allowing sit-ins in the café and have instead created a lovely outside seating area for when we’re not in lockdown. They also serve from the door, rather than having to queue in the shop to ensure social distancing.

The best way to support Crumbs and keep up to date with what they’re doing is through their Instagram (@crumbscupcakeryyork) and they have also just started a TikTok (@crumbs_cupcakery). Local businesses often rely on word of mouth, so any engagement on social media really helps. “Everything helps at the moment. Like a post, share a post, comment on a post. And of course, supporting us by buying our cakes and coffees!” Crumbs do amazing specials, and they are currently planning some festive bakes for the December season. So why not treat your family and friends to a Christmas box of cupcakes this December, or pop to Crumbs for a takeaway coffee and cake during a lockdown walk (check their Instagram for updates on when they’re open)! A sweet treat is just what we all need at the moment, and the girls at Crumbs have got us all sorted!

From each business we interviewed, it is clear that Yorkshire’s local Christmas scene is very much open for (online) business. Each of the businesses we contacted encourage everyone to get involved - to enquire about products and find out what they have to offer. And when everything is, in the words of Lit’s founder, available “from the comfort of your home”, there is little reason not to explore the variety that local businesses have to offer when doing your Christmas shopping. With this in mind, we’ve compiled a list of recommended products from each of the businesses we interviewed. If you want to support your local business at this time, like and share their Facebook page, buy from them and if they offer any gift vouchers – be sure to treat a friend too!

#ShopLocal Christmas Gift Guide
Use this gift guide to give special unique gifts and support York’s local artists and businesses this festive season!

From The Pouring House
The perfect Christmas gift from the pouring house is the Christmas bauble full of wax melts. In sets of one ( for £2.99) or three for (£5.99) their cute size and affordability makes them a perfect Secret Santa gift. The wax melts come in 10 different Christmas scents, including candy cane and frosted pine, making them an all round festive favourite. Pre order at their website https://thepouringhouse.myshopify.com at one for £2.99 or a set of three for £5.99.

From Lit
Lit’s frankincense, bergamot and ginger scented candle promises to be ‘relaxing and revitalising’, an essential after the year we’ve had. The scent offers a subtle twist on traditional Christmas scents and is therefore a perfect gift for friends and family members.
Purchase here https://www.lithome.uk/shop/p/frankincense-bergamot-ginger-candle-280g for £40 (for 280g) or £28g (for 140g).

From Pam Goodison Glass Artist:
Pam Goodison takes commissions for her glass artwork, so anything you can imagine is a great gift from her, but we particularly love the stained glass gingerbread men wearing facemasks, as a festive 2020 gift.
Use the Facebook link https://www.facebook.com/PamGoodisonGlassArtist/ to purchase this and all their other stained glass ornaments.

From York Gin
 A large (70cl) bottle of York Gin and two branded tumblers would be the ideal gift for a gin lover. You can choose from any of their six gins and serve it up on Christmas day in the beautiful York Gin tumblers.
Purchase here: https://www.yorkgin.com/product/70cl-bottle-and-pair-of-tumblers for £55.

From Crumbs Cupcakery
Throughout December Crumbs Cupcakery will be making boxes of Christmas cupcakes to order, which will include four different seasonally festive cupcake flavours. This is something we think would be a perfect gift to give to your family to enjoy all together, or even to order for friends and family you haven't been able to see over lockdown.
Use their website https://www.crumbs-cupcakery.co.uk to browse their range or DM them on Instagram (@crumbscupcakeryyork) to order your Christmas cupcake box in December, for £10.

The Official Yorkshire Online Christmas Market (on Facebook)
Join the online group showcasing a great variety of local businesses, including several of the businesses mentioned in this article. There are numerous gifts available from the various businesses, with everything from Covid-themed Christmas cards to handmade decorations and sweet treats. Whatever kind of gift you’re looking for this Christmas, there’s bound to be a business ready to sell it to you!
Join the group here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/270126664423908

For a longer list of York businesses open for delivery and collection during the lockdown, clickhere.

4338Credit: The Pouring House

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Credit: Crumbs Cupcakery
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Credit: Lit/@helenadolby
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Credit: Pam Goodison

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