Courting customers

New shop local holiday campaign promotes Southwest retailers

The Nicollet-East Harriet Business Association has kicked off a new campaign, “Expect the Unexpected–Shop Southwest,” to promote local retailers this holiday season.

Matt Perry, president of the business association, said the hope is to create a sense of camaraderie among small businesses located within a large portion of southwest Minneapolis — roughly 400 storefronts covering more than 420 city blocks from 36th Street to the Crosstown, Bryant Avenue on the west and Nicollet on the east.

“People know why they should shop local,” he said. “Our assumption is we don’t have to convince people to shop local. We are helping the customer know when they shop in southwest, the experience will be a special one.”

Shops participating in the campaign get a marketing boost through the Experience Southwest website, promotional posters, a shopping guide and social media. The goal is to increase visibility among member businesses and drive sales, Perry said.

“When I shop local, my experience is one that I get something I can’t get in other places  — I get a unique product or service,” Perry said. “I can often walk or bike there. The service is exceptional. And often times, I’m talking with the owner of the business. My shopping experience is a personal one.”

There are 110 businesses listed as holiday destinations on the Experience Southwest shopping guide, including several specialty gift shops, restaurants, florists, salons and home furnishing stores, among others.

Mary Hunter, co-owner of the Grand Café at 38th & Grand, said she’s excited to be part of the shop local campaign.

“It pulls us together as business owners,” she said. “It’s a reminder of what’s going on in the neighborhood.”

The Grand Café has a popular brunch that’s a draw for people all over the metro. It’s also become a favorite destination for private dining events.

Next door, there’s a new kid on the block — Digs, a shop owner Linda Schneewind describes as a “virtual Etsy.” She recently moved her store from Northfield to Kingfield — a vibrant space filled with arts and crafts made primarily by artists in the Midwest. Digs is also part of the shop local campaign. “It’s great cross promotion,” she said.

Sugar Sugar, the candy store across the street from Digs at 3803 Grand Ave. S., is another holiday destination highlighted by Experience Southwest.

Joni Wheeler has been in business since October 2009. The last couple of weeks before Christmas tend to be the busiest for her during the holiday season. The store is known for its old-fashioned candies and specialty sweets imported from around the world. The sour gummy worms are one of the biggest draws. She’s sold more than 3,000 pounds of the candy since opening.

While Wheeler has been savvy about using social media to promote Sugar Sugar, she said she appreciates the help from the shop local campaign. “It’s nice to have the extra marketing.”

Ten blocks south, retailers at 48th & Grand are also working to promote their business node as a unique shopping destination and hope to get more visibility from the “Expected the Unexpected” marketing effort. Ethique Nouveau, 317 W. 48th St., donates all the profits from the gift shop to the Animal Rights Coalition and it’s the only 100 percent vegan store in the state.

Nearby, A Little Bird on Grand recently opened at 4754 Grand Ave. S. The shop, owned by Jodi Sandberg, carries vintage and new home décor, jewelry, specialty soaps and other gift items.

Sandberg is grateful to be part of the campaign. So far, she hasn’t spent a lot of time or money advertising her new business.

“I don’t have money for advertising. Most of it is just word of mouth,” she said. “[The campaign] is really nice for a new business in town. I think it will have an impact.”

A metro-wide shop local campaign

The Twin Cities Metro Independent Business Alliance (MetroIBA) has also kicked off a new shop local campaign for the holiday season called “Buy Local/Buy Smart.”

The organization has also launched a new website — — and a holiday gift guide showcasing products from its member businesses.

Roxy Freese, owner of The Bibelot Shops, kicked off the campaign Nov. 21 at her Northeast store. She opened her Bibelot in St. Anthony Park 45 years ago and now has four locations, including one in Linden Hills.

MetroIBA cites figures on its website suggesting that for every $1 spent at local retailers, 68 cents gets recirculated into the economy. Meanwhile, for every $1 spent at a national chain store, about 43 cents stays in the local economy.

Many area retailers are reporting an uptick in spending, including Bibelot. November sales were up between 8 and 10 percent on the stores compared to 2010, Freese said.

Like many other small retailers, Black Friday isn’t a boon for business at Bibelot. Freese has labeled the day “Plaid Friday.” Instead, the Saturday after Thanksgiving has traditionally been a better sales day. Nov. 26 was the second annual Small Business Saturday event for retailers across the country.

As for a sales strategy for the holiday season, Freese said Bibelot is sticking with the same approach that has worked for the company for years. “Terrific merchandise and excellent customer service,” she said.  

Josh Wolanin contributed to this report.