An Open Letter to Exhausted Local Business Owners at Christmas

carrie rollwagen wearing a santa hat

I know you’re tired. You’re worried you’re not ordering enough, that what you do order won’t sell, that the packages you ship won’t make it by Christmas. You’re faking holiday cheer so the customers won’t leave and your staff won’t lose faith, but you’re barely holding on.

Can we stop for a minute and talk about why you’re doing what you’re doing? Because I suspect you’re not sure anymore.

You’re not just selling a product — you’re building relationships, building community, and what you do matters; it matters very much. You look people in the eye, listen to their needs and treat them like humans. You create moments of humanity and delight every time you serve a cup of cocoa or tie a ribbon on a package or hand a customer their bag. When you help a customer choose a gift, you’re reminding them to think of their family and friends — to really think of them, enough to spend money and time (not just to tap “like” on a photo).

Every day, you soothe people who are angry. You make people who feel invisible know they are seen. You pull together two opposing sides who’ve chosen to argue in front of your cash register. You are helping people connect — carving a community out of hearts have have been hardened against each other. In our increasingly digital and divisive world, maybe personal connection is the only way to heal the wounds we’ve been inflicting. You’re in the middle of a cultural tug of war — no wonder you’re tired.

There will be plenty of people who tell you it doesn’t matter. Maybe they don’t say it to your face, but you hear it loud and clear, because they see buying from your shop as an afterthought, not a priority.

But anyone who questions whether or not small shops build community hasn’t been around them as much as we have. They haven’t seen a couple come in to shoot their engagement photos because they met in your shop. They haven’t seen an entire store rally around the little boy who just spilled his hot chocolate so he doesn’t feel embarrassed. They haven’t heard strangers and neighbors laughing together when a woman tells a funny story about her in-laws while waiting in line at the register.

We are so unaccustomed to humanity now that we don’t recognize it when we see it. But you see humanity every day — the bad parts, sure, but the good parts, too. And you work every day to make more good parts. You facilitate the moments of connection, of healing, of humanity.

Maybe it’s just a little bit. But maybe it’s the little bit that matters.

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