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We must also take collective action as a state and country to stand up for those that have been left behind in this pandemic. (Photo by John Keeble/Getty Images)

We must also take collective action as a state and country to stand up for those that have been left behind in this pandemic. (Photo by John Keeble/Getty Images)

This Holiday Season—Shop Safely, Support Local Businesses and Act with Justice in Mind

When you purchase gifts through small, local retailers, you are helping to sustain the livelihoods of real people in your community.

Sarah Piepenburg

As a small business owner, 2020 has been a challenging year for me, my small staff and my family. Like many other small businesses, Vinaigrette, our olive oil and vinaigrette store in Minneapolis, has taken a serious hit from the decline of traffic as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The new reality of this year has kept our doors closed some of the time and sent people shopping online more often.

People are right to protect their families’ health. However, we must acknowledge that this year’s boom in online retail will suffocate small operations like mine if we do not take the right steps to preserve local commerce. 

The devastating effect Amazon has had on my business this year extends far beyond what fair competition or COVID safety would allow.

This holiday season is the perfect time to think critically about the far-reaching impact online retailers like Amazon have on our community and what Americans can do to support their neighborhood businesses.

The devastating effect Amazon has had on my business this year extends far beyond what fair competition or COVID safety would allow: As an online retail monopoly Amazon makes it harder for me to do business at many turns.

In April, we received word that our longstanding logistics partner would have to drop our business from their distribution route. They signed a lucrative $1,000,000+ contract with Amazon to distribute Amazon packages. As we looked for alternatives, we soon realized that Amazon struck similar deals with most of the supply chain. When we found a new distributor, the cost to ship was 4-times more than our original price – a devastating additional overhead when our shop was already struggling. 

Amazon’s dominance over shipping also made it impossible for our usual supplier to send us the bottles we need. Last month, we were forced to drive to Milwaukee and load up our family van with merchandise to keep our doors open.  

To put all of this into perspective – Amazon has seen a record-breaking year for profits, while small businesses across the country continue to struggle enormously. In Q3 of 2020, Amazon reported $6.3 billion in Q3 revenue – compared to $2.1 billion in Q3 2019. Amazon stock as a whole has seen a 75% rise over the past nine months. This type of unprecedented growth for a single retailer comes with significant losses for thousands of other companies.

As you think about the individual purchasing choices you will make over the coming week, I’d encourage Americans to keep a few things in mind. When you purchase gifts through small, local retailers, you are helping to sustain the livelihoods of real people in your community. Any money that is spent at my store stays in the community; it translates into essentials like groceries and housing for me, my family and my employees. If we want to preserve our cherished neighborhood institutions, the places that give character to our cities, we must come together and support local, independent businesses. 

We must also take collective action as a state and country to stand up for those that have been left behind in this pandemic. The U.S. Senate need to act on relief packages and make sure they prioritize struggling small businesses and the families they support. With a little help, we can keep our doors open, and continue to exist as assets for our communities and job creators for years to come. 

In the long-term, we must find solutions that level the playing field for local, independent businesses that will continue to struggle as mammoth tech companies continue to cut a larger slice of our economy away from mom-and-pop operations. The Main Street Alliance recently signed onto a letter asking our federal officials to close the gaps in regulatory policy that Big Tech has long exploited to achieve the corrosive, monopoly power they hold today. 

My love for my customers, my community and the business I’ve grown will keep me hanging on. My employees – who have stuck with me for years – are family and I will fight to preserve what we have built together. My hope is that these values, and the compassion of our neighbors, will outweigh Amazon's influence over the way we do business. I hope to continue to provide our community with olive oil and vinaigrette to tap, taste & treasure for years to come.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Sarah Piepenburg

Sarah Piepenburg is co-owner of Vinaigrette and a member of the Main Street Alliance of Minnesota.

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