By Gina Malone
If ever there were a time for consumers to shop local, this holiday season is it. Our small businesses are still facing hardship from COVID-19 and its economic impact.
Fortunately, Asheville and the many smaller cities and towns that make up Western North Carolina, have a lot to offer. Many of our regional businesses have adapted to these trying times by doing what they do best—getting creative in finding ways to get products to customers.
Shop Small Saturday is November 28, but there’s no need to wait to support our favorite shops, galleries, restaurants and nonprofit organizations. Dollars spent now and beyond the holidays will help them make it through rough times and, at the same time, provide us with some unique gifts for friends and family and new favorite places to shop that keep dollars in our communities.
Safe, In-person Shopping
Those who feel comfortable shopping in person will find that most businesses have safety measures in place, such as limiting occupancy so that social distancing can be achieved; cleaning equipment, door handles, carts and baskets; supplying hand sanitizer; and requiring masks.
In this issue, we have stories on several businesses, towns and districts that offer safe shopping experiences including Claying Around, Brevard’s The HeART of the Season, Hendersonville’s Peppermint Bear Scavenger Hunt and the River Arts District’s Fall Studio Stroll.
Area farmers markets, many open through December, offer a chance to shop outdoors for homemade and handmade gift items such as canned and baked goods, soaps, crafts, not to mention foodstuffs for holiday feasts. Visit AppalachianGrown.org for listings of farmers markets offering winter hours and holiday markets.
Check websites for holiday events that are still happening. The Asheville Downtown Association (ADA), for instance, will hold distanced visits with Santa and Mrs. Claus on Saturday, November 21, from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and 3–5 p.m. Downtown Asheville businesses will also decorate windows for the annual Downtown Holiday Windows Contest. This year’s theme, fittingly, is Home for the Holidays. “I can’t stress enough that downtown businesses need our support more than ever, and the holidays are going to be crucial to helping businesses make it through the slower winter months,” says Meghan Rogers, ADA’s executive director. Learn more at AshevilleDowntown.org.
Sales and Shows
One of the benefits of this time is that, in many cases, events, in becoming virtual, are able to reach more people and those who might have been prohibited by time or distance from attending a physical event. Such is the case with some of WNC’s annual art and crafts shows, including the 11th Annual Handmade Holiday Sale hosted by Bardo Arts Center. Usually an in-person event, this year’s juried sale, launching on Thursday, November 19, will be virtual, with no cost to vendors or shoppers. “This event features high-quality, handmade gifts created by Western Carolina University students, staff and alumni,” says Jill Jacobs, marketing manager for the John W. Bardo Fine & Performing Arts Center. “Items for sale include artwork, ceramics, sculpture, wearable accessories and other handmade craft items.” Visit Arts.WCU.edu/handmadeholiday beginning November 19 to shop the sale.
The Southern Highland Craft Guild (SHCG) Craft Fair and the Toe River Arts Holiday Studio Tour are two long-standing traditions, bringing high-quality arts and crafts to the public, that are going virtual this year. SHCG’s fair offers some of the finest crafts in a variety of mediums Thursday, November 12, through Sunday, November 15.
The Toe River Arts (TRA) Holiday Studio Tour has been a mainstay during the holiday season, bringing the work of scores of artists to the attention of the buying public. “Pivoting online now in our 28th year, with nods to the past decades, Toe River Arts is bringing the work of our vibrant rural craft community to everyone in and beyond our mountains,” says Brady Connelly, TRA’s marketing and communications coordinator. Visit ToeRiverArts.org/Studio-Tour beginning Monday, November 23, and continuing through December 27.
Asheville’s Show & Tell Holiday Pop Up Shop, sponsored this year by Center for Craft, is also bringing holiday shopping into homes this year. Featuring the work of more than 125 local and indie vendors, the online shopping experience will feature handmade, vintage, fair trade and packaged bites from Asheville and beyond. The virtual shop opens Sunday, November 1, and runs through January 10. Shipping, curbside pick-up and local delivery options are available. Learn more at ShowAndTellPopUpShop.com.
Artists and Galleries
Many artists and galleries already had or have recently added online shops to their websites, including Art MoB Studios (ArtMobStudios.com), Bella Gallery (BellaGalleryNC.com), Grovewood Gallery (Grovewood.com) and Asheville Gallery of Art (AshevilleGallery-of-Art.com). Arts councils throughout WNC are another great place to find online offerings. Haywood Arts Council and Toe River Arts are two organizations that support their member artists with both online and in-person shops.
Even if artists don’t have online stores up and running, many are willing to work with buyers over the phone or via Zoom, or schedule appointments. American Folk Art & Framing offers phone consultations and curbside pick-up for those who may not be able to shop and browse as usual and Contemporaneo Asheville offers in-person visits as well as online catalogues and ordering information for some of its featured artists.
It’s natural that artists and gallery owners are uniquely qualified to come up with creative alternative ideas when the going gets tough. Suzanne Camarata of The Gallery at Flat Rock pivoted to porch portraits during the time that businesses were closed and continued the service even after her gallery was open again. People are booking shoots as a way not only to record this time when home has become such a safe haven but also as ways to mark birthdays, anniversaries and, of course, holiday celebrations.
Artists in Asheville’s River Arts District initiated and began participating in #artistsupportpledgerad, part of an international, social-media-based effort to keep art sales strong within the arts community. Check Facebook for local artists who are offering work at low price points as part of the pledge.
If unsure what piece a gift recipient might like or worried about the price of a desired piece, some artists are happy to provide gift certificates and work out payment plans with buyers.
The Great Smoky Mountains Association depends on the sale of merchandise online and in its park visitor centers to provide educational products and services. To that end, the nonprofit publishes a holiday shopping catalog each year, highlighting some of the popular products. The catalog is available at park visitor centers and stores and at SmokiesInformation.org. Proceeds from the online sales will help offset the loss of funds during COVID-related temporary closures in early spring and finance upcoming park projects.
Finding websites for local causes you support is a good way to connect with those nonprofits that offer online shops. Many of the nonprofits we have featured in these pages offer merchandise as a means of raising funds, including Hats for Refugees, Mountain Pet Rescue, Appalachian Wildlife Refuge and Aurora Studio & Gallery. Search The Laurel’s archives.
Business directories help shoppers think conscientiously as they make their lists. Conscious consumerism has its critics. Some fear it’s too small a gesture to make a difference, but small business owners appreciate local business because they, too, are investing in the communities where they’re located. Maybe you want to shop green, patronize Black- or women-owned businesses, or give back to businesses that have gone above and beyond to help others during the pandemic.
Yoruba, a grassroots project begun in June, offers a one-stop website for a range of Black-owned businesses at Yoruba.Life. “We created the directory shortly after the death of George Floyd,” says founder Jeremiah Robinson. “The goal of Yoruba is to provide Black business owners a place to create and manage their own company profiles with links to their website and social media, get customer reviews, take online reservations and message customers directly.”
Stephen Smith owns a natural and organic landscaping company in Asheville and is one of the more than 200 businesses listed on the site. “Yoruba, to me, is people, especially Black people, realizing the importance of group economics and how crucial it is for a people’s survival,” Smith says. “Local businesses are the backbone of any community, not only for providing employment but for building relationships.”
Soon after the pandemic hit, several websites sprang up in support of regional businesses, including AshevilleStrong.com, LoveHendo.com and LoveJacksonNC.com. These sites offer gift cards and other merchandise, the purchase of which help local restaurants, businesses, services providers and others keep sales going. With many gatherings likely on hold this holiday season, gift cards make easily exchanged gifts that show businesses love now in anticipation of better days ahead.
Do make sure that your in-person shopping trips and outings follow state and local safety requirements: wearing a mask, maintaining distance and using hand sanitizer. Most businesses and organizations require masks and many limit the number of visitors and ask that patrons respect restrictions as they shop, dine and attend events.
In the interest of public safety, some CVS stores are offering free testing in November and December. Included are the Hendersonville store at 2001 Spartanburg Highway, open 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day, and the Asheville store at 320 New Leicester Highway, open 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday.
When the wrappings are torn off, the stockings emptied and the holidays tucked away for next year, don’t forget that our businesses still need help getting through these tough times. Getting take-out from favorite restaurants and tipping generously when you do, shopping neighborhood stores in-person or online for necessities instead of patronizing mega e-commerce sites, coming out for Second Saturdays and other arts-related events—these are all ways to help one another make it through this difficult time and shop with purpose, consciousness and personal satisfaction. It’s a time when thinking small yields big for our communities.
Find more ways to help with online searches of your favorite local businesses. Our categorized index of advertisers in the back of our magazine and here on our website are good places to locate artists, galleries, retail shops, restaurants and other regional businesses.