If you needed proof that online shopping has skyrocketed during the pandemic, you only need to look so far as the notoriously long lines that have gathered outside of WesStation. This rise in online retail is understandable. The combination of the spike in COVID-19 cases, numerous stores going bankrupt and selling their brick and mortar locations, and the increase in time spent at home have created a perfect storm for online shopping. I can understand why. Online shopping has provided many people with something positive to look forward to. Between the 24/7 news cycle and the continued upward ticking COVID-19 death count, small, positive diversions are not only welcome, but often needed. However, between our love for online shopping and our struggling economy, our actions could cause small businesses to become extinct. I urge you to heed my message to spend locally (if you are willing and able to do so) so that we don’t see small businesses go extinct. 

Online retail can save busy people time, energy, and stress. It can be all too easy to complete an online purchase. Websites can remember your credit card information so that you don’t have to enter it every time. Amazon can deliver your packages to you as soon as the next day. When I frame it like this, why would people ever shop in person again? Many businesses have posted notices ensuring customers of their commitments to creating a safe shopping environment, but it’s hard to entice people to come into a public store if the safest thing to do is stay at home. 

The downside of our societal craze for online shopping means it’s entirely feasible that brick and mortar stores could be a thing of the past. Even essential businesses like grocery stores can now deliver food to your doorstep. Many brands are also realizing the huge expense that paying for large spaces and maintaining physical stores brings about. If a business doesn’t have to hire, train, and pay employees, why would they do so? Plus, if people are showing a preference for shopping online, that’s all the incentive companies need to cut costs and sell directly to consumers online. However, the disappearance of brick and mortar stores would mean the end of many Americans’ income streams, a serious consequence everyone should be concerned about.

Small businesses and the people who work for them are a cornerstone of the American economy and we cannot abandon them in their time of need. Small businesses provide millions of jobs and livelihoods within the communities they are servicing. The Financial Times has reported that around 12.6 million people are employed by the nation’s 4.7 million “mom and pop” stores, alone. Additionally, prior to COVID-19, small businesses accounted for half of the private-sector jobs, and for two-thirds of new jobs created from 2000 to 2017. Millions of jobs and long-lasting unemployment are on the line for many if we don’t shop locally.

Additionally, small businesses represent the American dream: the chance to work hard, open a business, and become your own boss is an aspiration for many. Many small business owners have taken a great financial risk and have worked tirelessly in order to provide excellent products and services in the communities in which they’re located. Furthermore, some people still rely on small businesses, particularly in small towns where big chains are sometimes less accessible. If small towns lose these essential businesses, the consequences for both the town and the people living in the town could be disastrous. Property values could easily decline, and many people would be stuck living in areas with inadequate services.

In response to these consequences, local businesses are making sure to take careful precautions in order to protect customers, and we should be supporting their efforts. I personally feel safe shopping in person due to the efforts of small businesses, and here’s why you might want to consider doing so, too.

Firstly, in Connecticut, it is currently mandatory that everyone wear face masks in public, including in businesses. As we’ve learned over the pandemic, wearing a mask is one of the most effective ways to protect yourself from spreading coronavirus.

Secondly, many stores offer customers hand sanitizer, and some even mandate that it be applied upon entering. Minimizing the spread of germs when customers enter and leave the store is another effective and easy way that local businesses are making in-store shopping safer.

Thirdly, many stores are also limiting the number of people allowed in the space at a time in order to adhere to six feet social distancing guidelines. 

If you’re still not convinced or are simply not able to visit stores in person, there are other ways to support small businesses that don’t involve shopping online from big companies. Many local stores offer curbside pick-up, allowing customers to avoid physical contact. For example, you can safely support your local restaurants by ordering takeout or delivery and eating it in the safety of your home. Finally, if you can afford to do so, purchasing a gift card and using it later lets your local business know you care, even if you don’t currently feel comfortable shopping in-person.

While shopping locally can be slightly more expensive than buying from a big box retailer, it is well worth the slight expense if you can afford it. Supporting local businesses isn’t just a statement that says you appreciate their services, but it’s also a statement that says you care about business owners, their employees, and the community. Online shopping may be the path of least resistance, but big corporations are most likely going to be able to pull through the pandemic while many small businesses are not. Many hard-working individuals may see their life’s work disappear if their small business fails. Those of us who can afford to shop locally can prevent this from happening, but we’re going to have to get off our computers in order to do so. 


Zoe Genden can be reached by email at zgenden@wesleyan.edu