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‘Shop small’ Saturday and all season long

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By M.S. Sacry 

for the Valley Journal

With the U.S. supply chain facing unprecedented backlogs this holiday season, shoppers have been warned that major suppliers of holidays gifts may have bare shelves this year. But one industry’s bust can always lead to another’s boom. Local retailers peddling Montana made goods are optimistic about this year’s shopping season, which kicks off with Small Business Saturday this weekend. 

Wendi Arnold of Flathead Lake Cheese said that food can be a great gift to give.

“The pandemic has kept us busy sending out care packages (specials found on our website) so I think the move towards food really started last year,” Arnold said. “There is a true comfort in the gift of food. Such love in wanting to nourish another and, I have to admit, I love a gift I don’t have to dust.” 

Flathead Lake Cheese has been open 10 years. While the business specializes in artisanal cheese, shoppers will also find other local-made gifts available when they shop for cheese. 

“For the past few years, we have included a variety of options that can be added to our gift boxes from other local food producers such as Good Coffee Roasting Company, Fat Robin Orchard, Montana Buffalo Gals, Montana Marbled Meats and, new this year, we’re including sea salt caramels from Chocolate Eclipse,” Arnold said. “I like the idea of supporting other businesses in our small way and giving our customers more of a local Montana experience. It’s known as ‘The Big Cheese’ and you have to call me to see what’s available.”

Arnold recommends ordering early as orders have already started to come in.

“I have a feeling there are going to be some slow deliveries in the last weeks of the year so don’t put it off, get your ordering and mailing done early,” she said. 

Arnold offered a good reason to shop small businesses this season. 

“Small businesses offer not only unique gift opportunities but keep the community vibrant, Arnold said. “All summer long, at our walk-up window, I am happily directing tourist traffic to our many diverse attractions.”

In Ronan, another small business is banking on customers purchasing something they can’t find on box store shelves: an experience. 

“One of the biggest shifts people are seeing with all the different forms of commerce and with changing ideas about materialism is an emphasis on the experience being part of the product,” Ronan Cooperative Brewery Head Brewer Jim Myers said. “Certainly going out to eat and having drinks while enjoying each other’s company is a part of that shift. Sometimes it’s nice to go shopping and bring something home but we’re also seeing where a lot of people are just as happy to get home and reflect on how they chose to spend their time and look forward to re-creating the experience. For those shopping for gifts, we offer both. We have merchandise like shirts, hats and other brewery related items as well as gift certificates and co-op memberships, that don’t take up as much space.” 

The brewery opened as the state’s first cooperatively owned establishment in October 2020, and took on its first year in a time when many breweries and eateries went bankrupt around the country. 

“Ronan has a strong contingency of “local first” minded citizens who are loyal to their community’s businesses,” Myers said. “Without that, the brewery project wouldn’t have made it this far. Shopping local is so important to us because there are lots of great products made in lots of different places, by why not have them made here, by us? When businesses can offer wages that support families, communities are supported and gain the leverage they need to grow and thrive on a lot of levels.”

The brewery offers more than just beer. While they’re still working out their holiday specialties, they’ve gotten creative to make the brewery a hub of creativity and opportunity to gather and enjoy good company. 

“Through the winter the first Sunday of the month is our Paint and Sip where we put together a painting experience for $10 and customers get to take home an image they’ve created stroke by stroke while enjoying a beer or kombucha or root beer,” Myers said. “On Tuesdays we have trivia and Ronan High School’s vocational program sells delicious tacos. On Fridays we typically have some sort of food like pizza or bratwursts. Last summer the Western Montana Musician’s Coop started hosting music nights for some of their artists who’ve put together longer sets of music. The nights for that have shifted some due to scheduling issues, so check us out on social media for more information and announcements with that, but live music is tough to beat.”

For folks hoping to find more than one Montana artisan specialty, the HandMADE Montana store in Polson is a great stop. 

“Money spent locally stays local,” said owner Carol Lynn Lapotka. “It supports and brings a community together and is often what makes small towns so great. Our retail shop is an extension of the four large art events we organize in Bozeman, Helena, and Missoula. Customers get to connect with makers and artisans and hear their story.”

This year’s Missoula Holiday MADE fair is set for Dec. 12 at the Adams Center in Missoula. 

“Our Missoula event showcases over 200 talented and curated artists, Lapotka said. “In our 14th year, I am still blown away by the talent and enjoy connecting with everyone throughout the event.”

Lapotka’s store in downtown Polson is one of many that will be participating Small Business Saturday on Nov. 27. 

“Shop Small Saturday has been a tradition for many local businesses and we are all working together to bring more people to downtown Polson,” Lapotka said. “Our shop is offering complimentary gift wrapping with purchases over $50 and a coupon good off your next purchase.” 

Lapotka weighed in on what this year’s shopping trends seem to be. 

“I think people are turning to gift items that are unique and functional,” Lapotka said. “No one really needs random stuff, but we all want to feel connected to others and receive a thoughtful gift that is memorable. Something that can be worn, and you smile when you think of the person that gave it to you. A piece of art that brings you joy. A mug that soon becomes part of your morning ritual.” 

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