Minnesota shoppers look local this holiday season

This holiday season many shoppers are pinching pennies, but there's also a desire to get out and about instead of only browsing online.

George John, a marketing professor at the University of Minnesota, said the uncertainty over inflation has led shoppers to kick of holiday shopping earlier than usual.

The General Store in Minnetonka has long been seen as a spot to buy gifts for family and friends who have everything. 

"We're a destination," said owner Jenny Putnam. "We draw from around the Metro, and we also draw from around the states, too."

She said the store put out Christmas items on Oct. 1, but customers were requesting them even before that. The store is a family tradition since 1984.

"My parents started the store way back then, and we're still family-run owned, and operated to this day," Putnam said.

Though holiday shopping habits have changed in recent years, the feel that customers get from being inside a small business is why experts say online sales are slowing from the height of the pandemic in favor of shopping in-store.

"Even though they might be selling you a product, part of the joy of buying the product is the whole experience of being in the store and being helped by somebody and buying it from someone that you at least know," John said.

In a normal year, typically about 30 percent of gifts are returned, he said.

"So if you're a little bit cash-constrained and things are expensive, think a little bit more and make the gifts memorable," he recommended.

John said where small businesses thrive is one-of-a-kind items. That’s something the store Mama’s Happy has in spades.

Amanda Ficek's store in St. Louis Park is open seven days a week. But four times a year, she opens up her location in Independence for packed holiday markets where a month's worth of shoppers are crunched into five days. The holiday market runs from Nov. 9 through Nov. 13.

"(Customers) put it on their calendars, they invite their girlfriends, their sisters come visit on the weekend we're open. It's an event, rather than just a store," said Ficek, owner of Mama's Happy.

The tagline at Mama’s Happy is "never the same store twice" because most pieces are repurposed, vintage or handmade.

"A lot of what we do is find cool old stuff that people are getting rid of and kind of give it a facelift, so it's relevant again," Ficek said.

The best part is the people that are giving those facelifts are a group of female vendors who really embody the phrase "buy local."

"When you do shop here, you're supporting different women, local women who are stay-at-home moms, who are contributing back into the community," Ficek said.