Friendly, local, and independent- but suffering hard
They add colour to city centres, provide that one thing that even you didn’t know you needed, and provide a huge boost to the local economy- but small independent shops have been hit hard by the Coronavirus pandemic. In this new series, Matilda Siebrecht will take a look into how local businesses are facing the unfolding crisis.
By Matilda Siebrecht
Everyone has it – that moment of desperation as they realise that the one thing that they need isn’t in their house. ‘ Maybe it has been lost in a move, or perhaps it was leant to a friend who has since become only an acquaintance.
The important point is that it is not where it should be, which is in close proximity and ready to be used.. In general, this is not a problem for us as the purchaser. In the modern world there are many options available to us, both online and in-person. In normal times, we would likely pop out around the corner to that little shop that you know sells just what you are looking for.
Unfortunately, we are not living in normal times. For many months, physical shops were unavailable to us, and, even if they were open, were rarely visited as we hid behind our barricade of toilet paper.
Luckily for us, in a digital age, the world can be purchased through the click of a button from the safety of our sofa. Unfortunately for small businesses, there were usually only a few select, multi-national buttons that we clicked on, all of which have expanded and profited hugely over the last few months. Even when shops could open their doors again, the ease and cheap prices of these booming online businesses enticed us to stay at home. That little shop around the corner was left forgotten.
This is perhaps an overly dramatic portrayal of the plight of small businesses in Groningen during the time of Coronavirus, although it must be said that the restrictions and regulations made much more of an impact on them than on large online companies. “I think it hit hard,” says Nynke Kloosterman, owner of Diezijner (a women and children’s clothing store). “We were all in shock.” However, one of the defining traits of our local small businesses is that they never give up. “Because we are small, we know each other personally in the street and city,” says Kloosterman. “We could think fast, help, and learn from each other, and work together in new creative ways.”
Small businesses are not standardised, and do not always have a marketing plan that runs years into the future, so they are more flexible and therefore more connected to the needs and wishes of their customers, that they often inevitably know well.
For some, this means that Coronavirus has had some positive effect of their business. “It was stormy for us at the beginning,” said Sandra Ronde-van der Laan, founder of de Streekboer (food delivery from local farms). “But then, people no longer wanted to go to the supermarket but needed a way to get their groceries, so we have benefited from it.”
Why does this matter, though? What makes small businesses so important? “We see our customers as people instead of consumers,” says Kloosterman. “And we have a unique assortment of products that can surprise you. It makes a city interesting, because small businesses are different everywhere.”
“Small local companies give the city colour and its own face,” added Corry Diertens, owner of De Soepwinkel (‘soup shop’). “The owner is often working there and can therefore talk in detail about the business and the products – the creativity is great and the service is personal.” This social connection and personal attention are a major advantage of small businesses over larger, colder companies.
Especially in times like these, where social interaction is limited and connections are becoming increasingly important, supporting local small businesses who can provide these things equates to supporting our community, and consequently our own selves.
So, when the sudden moment of desperation hits you and you can’t find that essential thing, resist the urge to return to that bookmarked page on your browser, and instead enjoy some search-time to find a local business that can provide that same thing. Over the next few weeks, I will be presenting some small features on a range of local businesses in the Groningen area, which can hopefully get you started in your search.
Additionally, the popular ‘Lutje Lokaal’ event – the Groningen version of ‘small business Saturday’ – which premiered last year will hopefully be running again in 2020. The format of this local business festival will be a little different this year (naturally). It will not be limited to one day, but is planned as a whole week of small businesses opening their doors and sharing their products, with shopping evenings by appointment and fun events with regulated groups of customers in organised timeslots.
Kloosterman, who was one of the main organisers last year along with colleagues from several other shops, hopes that it will be just as exciting as last year. “We want to show our customers how happy we are to have them,” she says, “and show the world why shopping local and at small businesses is fun!”
Keep an eye on this space for more information about the Lutje Lokaal event, and in the meantime, happy shopping!
Matilda Siebrecht is a writer and researcher living in Groningen.
Image via PickPik. License-free.