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Easy ways to support local business in Oakland, Berkeley and East Bay this holiday season

Small town markets make the Bay Area great

Small town markets make the Bay Area great

There's something to be said for galvanizing support via a mob event: American Express' Small Business Saturday initiative (which attracted more than 1 million members on Facebook) recently garnered $1 million for Girls, Inc., while simultaneously creating Internet-wide buzz for consumers to support small businesses.

"There are some days that even barter would be good enough," bemoaned a local wine merchant on College Avenue, feeling hard times.

As I purchased a bottle of wine, the thought of Trader Joe's a mile away, with decent wines in the $2 to $6 range, made me feel for this guy who had opened his independent business to serve and educate the immediate neighborhood.

Maybe it was the cold weather bringing seasonal cheer or families visiting for the holiday. Either way, it was a joy yesterday to see people on College crowding the streets. Book, clothing and gift stores were filled with shoppers hearkening back to a day before online shopping was the norm.

Admittedly, it is sometimes difficult to pay the "extra" to buy books or other items locally that are available for less online. I try to overcome this by considering the local businesses to be a service and wonderful addition that make the area what it is.

Once the chain stores take over a formerly indi neighborhood, it's unlikely they'll turn back. Fillmore Street in San Francisco - where landlords are furiously increasing rent - is one example. Old Town Pasadena is another, with blocks and blocks of chain stores in the old brick buildings.

It doesn't take much to make a difference in keeping small businesses going. Whether you spend just a few dollars or more, let's work together and keep our local communities local.

Show your support

  • Make shopping an event: Lots of holiday street fairs are coming up as are open studios - for which you can look at your purchases as the price of "admission" to fabulous art exhibits.
  • Beat the online experience: Check bookstore schedules for author appearances, as an added pleasure while shopping.
  • MYOB: Make Your Own Basket, choosing this and that from various stores in your area. In other words, make shopping a fun event for you, too.
  • Buy experience gifts: For a massage, classes or other local services. Tattoos anyone?
  • Just do it: Get something at a store you're tempted to buy online. Give the store feedback on the experience.
  • Eat out: Grab a coffee, ice cream or produce from a local market where you don't usually shop, perhaps a fun new discovery for you!
  • Write positive reviews: Yelp is one place to submit a write up on your favorite businesses.
  • Just can't shop in a store? Check out Oakland Unwrapped where you can shop online at local stores.

Suggestions for retailers:

Modernize your hours! Most independent businesses still seem to close at 6 p.m. when people are barely getting off of work. Is this not a legacy from a bygone era? It seems worth a test to open later and stay open longer to see if shoppers come by before or after dinner.

Think like an online shopper. For big stores, add more guides or directions so when we walk in we can quickly find what we want. Sometimes it's fun to browse, but sometimes we're trying to support a local business, but want to get out quickly. It's not quaint but it's true, and the more efficient you can help us be, the more likely we'll be to return.

Ask for suggestions. The more you involve customers, the more loyal and attached to your store we'll be. (One of Trader Joe's approaches.)

One of the founders of Zingerman's, a deli in Ann Arbor, Michigan that had a vision to grow locally, has written some books that are worth a read.

Take Action

If you have ideas for supporting local business or for businesses to make it more compelling for you to shop locally, we want to hear them! And make sure to follow the small business tag on Oakland Local for more news and information.

About Susie Wyshak

Susie Wyshak lives to support artisan food entrepreneurs and family farms through writing, community connections, and business consulting. Her website is

Another way to support your community is to hit up the sfForage underground markets. i was at the one in west oakland last night. since it's at a sound studio now there were lots of bands playing. awesome food + company and it's all "local!"


ask your neighbors what goods/services they produce/provide. you never know...