The experts' guide to shopping local for the holidays

Practical advice to help you pull it off this year.

Practical advice to help you pull it off this year

a colourful illustration of people shopping at an outdoor holiday market in the evening
(Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

Whether you're concerned about the environmental footprint of online shopping, keen on supporting businesses in your area or are simply looking for convenience close to home, you might be considering doing more of your shopping locally this holiday season. And you wouldn't be alone: a recent survey by market research company the NPD Group found that more consumers are planning to make their holiday purchases in stores than online this year, despite the rising popularity of online shopping in recent years.  

Shopping local can also make a big difference. According to Valérie Roy, director of sales and recruitment at the One of a Kind Show (OOAK), for every $100 you spend locally, $63 remains in the community — compared to $14 when you shop at a big box store. 

"Your purchase from a small business is really impactful, and it means quite a lot," said Natasha Neale, ​f​ounder​ and c​​urator of Little Mountain Shop, which is hosting a holiday pop-up at The Polygon Gallery in North Vancouver this month. "You know that you are supporting somebody; you are supporting their passion. It sounds cheesy, but you know, it's made with love. It's made with care."

To help you go local for your gift-giving needs — no matter your budget or where you live — we asked the experts for their advice for getting it done on time and in style. 

Here's what to consider as you shop for the holidays and beyond. 

Get into the right mindset

Adjusting your mindset is a great place to start, said Sarah Power, founder of Inland, a self-described "shopping community for Canadian designers and for those who celebrate them" that's hosting a fashion concept shop in Toronto's Bayview Village shopping centre until Dec. 27. 

For Power, the shift is all about moving away from passive consumerism. "We [at Inland] really like to think about shopping as collecting items," she said. "[Things] that are really meaningful to you and that also reflect your values." 

Shopping local can help facilitate this, Power explained, as it offers you more opportunities to learn how and where the pieces are made. It's also an ideal way to find those small batch, limited-edition, made-to-order and capsule collection products that make extra special gifts.

Before heading out, it's important to really define what you need, said Power. "Don't just really go out and start shopping … be thoughtful and considerate about the things that you want to bring into your life" or gift to your friends and loved ones. 

Reframe your budget

For many, this mindset adjustment may require looking at the amount of money they have to spend in new ways. "People often think, 'Oh, I'm shopping local. It's going to be more expensive,'" said Power. "The shift there is to invest the same as you normally would, but buy less … [and] buy more meaningful products." 

Neale echoed this point. "It's that mind shift of, 'It doesn't have to be big … it's thoughtfully made and created by somebody, and [I'm] learning the story of the maker,'" she said. 

Many artisans also offer items at a range of price points, especially around the holidays with gifting in mind. A ceramic artist that sells $200 vases, for example, might also have a $50 mini vase that better fits your budget, said Neale. "Same with skincare lines … you can buy a whole kit, or you can just buy a smaller, mini sample-size version."

Plus, when you shop local, there is often an opportunity to meet the person or people behind the brand and inquire about special accommodations, or even get your hands on something that's truly one-of-a-kind. "The beauty of shopping small as well is just the potential for customization of your products," said Roy. That could mean getting an item made in a specific colour or size, she noted, or having the recipient's name engraved on it.

Know where to go

Power and Neale suggest using social media and event listings, respectively, to research upcoming craft and holiday markets in your area. If you can't — or prefer not to — shop in person, there are even virtual markets where you can discover local makers and make purchases for pick-up. 

Perusing a market is "a great way to meet hundreds of vendors and be exposed to different brands in all different categories of shopping, whether it's jewelry or things for the home," said Neale, so you can cross multiple people off your list all in one stop. This year's OOAK Winter Show, for example, featured the work of 600 artisans from across Canada. "This [allowed] our shoppers to really walk away with something beautiful at every price point," Roy added. 

Another benefit to doing your holiday shopping at a physical craft show or seasonal pop-up is convenience. There's no worrying about shipping costs or delays with in-person gift-buying (though it is important to note that making returns to vendors may not always be possible). 

Of course, a go-to option is to turn to the boutiques in your neighbourhood. "So many independent stores do a beautiful job [of] curating," said Neale. Some will likely carry local or regional brands exclusively, while others may offer a mix of local, Canadian and international products that would be hard to find elsewhere.

Leave yourself enough time

If you're looking for customization or are considering buying products that are made-to-order, be mindful of the fact that you may need to make that purchase extra early in order to give the artisan or designer time to produce the item at a busy time of year. "[You] really want to focus on having that done in the first week of December," said Power. 

Be sure to take note of shipping times if you're making online purchases from local shops as well, said Power. Smaller brands and retailers might require more time to package up your item, and options like overnight or expedited shipping aren't always available. 

Truc Nguyen is a Toronto-based writer, editor and stylist. Follow her at @trucnguyen.  


Truc Nguyen is a Toronto-based writer, editor and stylist. Follow her at @trucnguyen.

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