- Associated Press - Thursday, November 26, 2020

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Jenny Gonzales, owner of Los Ranchos’ Culture Club Salon, said she has seen firsthand this year how local businesses are able to lift one another up - even during the current state-mandated shutdown of nonessential businesses.

“I definitely have felt like this closure has given small businesses the opportunity to connect with one another,” she told the Albuquerque Journal. “There’s been a lot of trends online as far as sharing and reposting other small businesses and also doing collaborative projects.”

With salon business on hold, Gonzales jumped in on her own collaborative project by curating holiday gift baskets filled with local goods.

She chose products like coffee beans from Slow Burn Coffee and flowers from Bagel’s Florals because she has seen those businesses also do positive community-oriented work like hosting pop-up markets or creating lists for mutual aid projects.

“We just wanted to give the people of Albuquerque and local people the opportunity to offer that support back to us,” she said.

The state’s two-week “reset,” announced Nov. 13, closes nonessential businesses to in-person shopping, among other restrictions. It runs through Nov. 30.

The push to buy local has taken on a sense of urgency this year, between the ongoing pandemic and the fast-approaching holiday season.

In New Mexico, government initiatives, community-based outreach and local shops have all stepped up their messaging and marketing to drive business to small, independent retailers in an attempt to support and even save those businesses.

“What we’ve seen is like so many businesses have made creative and really ingenious changes to their business models this year,” said Synthia Jaramillo, director of Albuquerque’s Economic Development Department.

However, the timing of the statewide shutdown orders has added some hurdles for businesses and markets that traditionally rely on in-person shopping.

Janice Smith, who owns the Laughing Spirits Gallery in Old Town, said in normal years she would be getting her booth ready for the annual Rio Grande Arts and Crafts Festival. Now, she is preparing for a virtual version of the event.

Smith said the pandemic forced her to adapt to online selling rather than traveling the country to various art shows.

“There’s small business everywhere,” she said. “We’ve had to adapt so, you know, we need people to adapt with us.”

While e-commerce is one of the few ways small retailers are allowed to operate under New Mexico’s current state-mandated shutdown, not all local businesses have an online presence.

Jaramillo said many small businesses are also turning to the city for help and guidance to meet a variety of challenges.

“We have received a higher volume of calls from small businesses who are looking for resources, whether it be access to grants, access to capital, but also, we’re seeing businesses reach out to us to help them with maybe connecting them to an e-commerce platform,” she said.

This need for support has resulted in a handful of online resources created by state and city economic development departments and tourism-based organizations like Visit Albuquerque. Those resources range from advice to businesses on operating during a shutdown to lists for consumers looking for local shops to support.

Even trends on social media have cropped up with city-centric accounts like ABQtodo encouraging their followers to create posts promoting their favorite local business.

“I feel like with the second shutdown we’ve actually just gotten a lot of words of encouragement from our clients and from our community of followers online,” Gonzales said.

At the state level, Saturday is a tax-free holiday for New Mexico small businesses with fewer than 10 employees, said Charlie Moore, spokesman for the New Mexico Taxation and Revenue department.

Moore said the holiday was created as a way to incentivize New Mexicans to shop locally, but the program has yet to gain traction with small business owners, some of whom may be unaware of it.

Meanwhile, New Mexico’s small business owners have done what they can to encourage the shop local trend.

When Kelli Hulslander, owner of Your Other Closet consignment shop, read about businesses offering discounts for shopping locally in a national consignment organization newsletter, she knew immediately she wanted to bring the idea home to Albuquerque.

Hulslander said she wanted to lend a helping hand to her fellow small business owners by rewarding customers for shopping locally. She set up her own version of the program, and now offers customers a $5 discount for bringing a receipt from a local business.

“We just said ‘Hey, we want to support anybody who’s got a small business right now,’” she said.

Hulslander said programs like hers can create a “ripple effect” of businesses encouraging their customers to shop locally, which in turn supports the small business community as a whole.

“If I do business with somebody, I want to make sure that they’re going to be there in the future,” she said.

Hulslander said she tries her best to direct her customers to other local businesses whenever she can, even if that means pointing a customer to another consignment shop if she doesn’t carry the right item.

Hulslander said this results in a network of small businesses referring other small businesses and customers to locally owned shops, which creates an almost small town environment.

“It kind of feels like (a) small Main Street, support each other kind of thing, so it’s nice,” she said. “I enjoy it. I find it to be very supportive and warm.”

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