The holiday shopping season is upon us and despite the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on day-to-day life, it is expected to have little impact on consumer spending. If anything, it is changing how we shop.

Shelter-in-place orders, social-distance etiquette and mask mandates have left many consumers shopping less in person and more online. While this may be great for Amazon, Wayfair and other big retailers, it can take a jab at local economies.

Amidst the chaos, however, local entrepreneurs have emerged victoriously. Many have reinvented the wheel and quickly adapted to options that rival their much bigger counterparts. Local boutiques quickly created websites they’d never had before and offered curbside pick-up and free local delivery.

“For the most part, businesses have been very nimble adjusting to customer needs and new regulations,” said Kristi Bailey, director of communications and marketing for the St. Joseph Chamber of Commerce. “It’s hard to change, but many did so quickly to be able to stay open and keep their employees working. St. Joseph’s major employers were mostly deemed essential, so we didn’t have as many people our of work as some other Missouri towns.”

While Bailey said the local economy has stayed strong even during the pandemic, it’s still important to shop local. She said consumers need to remember that when they buy online, they aren’t helping keep friends and neighbors employed.

“There are no tax dollars being collected to fix roads and if local businesses close, even national brands with St. Joseph locations, that leaves empty storefronts,” Bailey said. “Empty buildings can easily become eyesores and a source of blight and even crime. We don’t want that to happen, so we have to make the effort to buy from St. Joseph retailers as often as possible.”

The chamber has taken this concept to heart and created a new campaign to support local businesses and the local economy – Champions of Commerce.

The program is designed to encourage residents to be a champion of local commerce by supporting local businesses. It includes a website that lists businesses and if they offer curbside pickup, delivery or shipping. Check it out at championsofcommerce.com. Bailey said the campaign also includes marketing materials reminding customers to shop local, as well as educational information for businesses to use themselves to improve their models and encourage their own customers to choose local first.

Historically speaking, consumers spend a majority of their holiday shopping budgets in November.

The National Retail Federation is encouraging people to shop safe and shop early. By spacing out shopping times and visits, there are less likely to be large crowds and more risk of exposure to COVID-19.

“Retailers are prepared for an early start to the shopping season, offering discounts earlier to ensure consumers can find the gifts they want, in stock at the price they want to pay, delivered at the time they want to receive them,” said Matthew Shay, chief executive officer with the NRF.

Locally, Bailey said there’s still a portion of the community that is at risk and won’t be doing holiday shopping in their normal manner. In previous years, Northwest Missouri residents have come out in droves to support local with the chamber’s Shop St. Joseph program, which gives customers a chance to win $10,000 by spending dollars locally.

But it’s hard to know what the economic impact of COVID-19 will have on local businesses.

“There are a lot of companies that won’t be having holiday parties at local restaurants because of the virus,” Bailey said. “So, we have to keep reminding our residents that many local businesses have websites where you can shop online, do curbside pickup or choose shipping. Before you go to Amazon or Etsy, make a conscious effort to find a local shop instead. Instead of Hello Fresh, order take out from a local restaurant or curbside pickup from a local grocery store.”