December 2020

Shop Local for the Holidays

Amazon Doesn’t Need You; Santa Cruz Does

By Suki Wessling

“Bookshop’s customers have always been there for us,” says Casey Coonerty Protti of Bookshop Santa Cruz. “It was true after the 1989 earthquake when our customers saved us from the rubble, to when big chain bookstores came to town, to the challenges of this year.”

And oh, what challenges our local businesses have seen. In the distant past (in other words, January, 2020), the big concern was the cost of living for employees. It’s hard to pay a living wage in one of the most expensive real estate markets in the

Then came the pandemic, at first closing stores indefinitely, then allowing reopening with a confusing and constantly changing patchwork of regulation.
We were just starting to get the hang of waiting at safe distances and wearing masks when fires upended our community again.
And now, in time for the holidays, shoppers are flocking to online shopping when our local stores need our support.

Shopping local keeps our money in place
“The holiday season is critically important for all retail stores every year, but this year, where local retail has seen sales go down by 40-50% (while Amazon is up by nearly as much!), the holiday season is kind of make or break.”
That’s Ian McHenry, who, faced with a pandemic, decided what he really needed to do was create a startup that would compete with Amazon. McHenry’s company, In Stock, is similar to Amazon in that you can get most anything you want delivered to your doorstep with a few clicks.

But In Stock is also very different. First, all of the products you find when you search its site are available locally and can arrive on your doorstep today. Second, rather than preying on local businesses, it bolsters communities by keeping money at home where it’s needed.

“Local retail and restaurants are the lifeblood of most downtowns in cities small and large,” McHenry says. “If people want to continue to have that as part of their community, it’s critically important that they check local stores first before buying something online from Amazon or elsewhere.”

It’s a challenge, not an obstacle
Store owners are getting inspired and creative. “The cool thing about [delivery during the quarantine] is I would take my children,” says Dyane Villalobos, owner of Childish in Santa Cruz. “They learned the maps of Santa Cruz and Scotts Valley. Since schools were shut down, at least they were learning.”
Villalobos says that the pandemic also forced her to bring the store almost fully online, something she’d planned to do…someday. “It forced us to work on our website and bring it up to a live platform which it wasn’t before.” Childish will also be integrated into In Stock in time for the holidays.

Wonderland, the local toy and teaching supplies store, is taking creativity to a whole new level. They had been planning an expansion from their space at the end of 41st Avenue to the Aptos Rancho del Mar shopping center, and decided not to let a pandemic stop them.

“Our customers are committed to shopping local and tell us they love shopping local,” says Hannah Stubblefield, who co-owns the store with Theresa Shellen. “We started our store five years ago with a dream that someday we’ll have two doors!”
Wonderland’s former space only had one door, and its footprint is too small to accommodate their foot traffic, especially now. Like other stores in this article, Wonderland features curbside pickup, online ordering, and delivery by mail or locally through In Stock. “In March and April, we had so much business from curbside pickup that’s really what saved us,” Stubblefield says.

What’s hot this season?
Charles Nelson, owner of Toque Blanche, a kitchen supply store in downtown Santa Cruz, says that the baking frenzy is real, and his store has also been challenged to grow. “We’ve seen huge increases in baking—anything related to bread is selling like crazy. Then we have specialty items like no-contact forehead thermometers—I never expected to be selling a product like that, but we are!”
Wonderland reports that outdoor games are popular (safer during a pandemic) and they expect lots of interest in education-connected toys like science kits during this year of homeschooling.

Along with lots of books (which are selling briskly now that people aren’t going out as much), Bookshop has gotten creative with ‘Holidays in a Box.’
“Our biggest new addition is customized care packages and other unique gifts for the holidays,” Casey Protti explains. “Customers fill out interest forms online and we select books and gifts to send to their loved ones.”

“We continually evolve our selection,” explains Dedra Bennett, owner, Zinnia’s Gift Boutique in Scotts Valley. “This pandemic is one more time when we have shifted our product selection to meet our customers’ needs. We carry face masks, sanitizers and lots of puzzles in support of home activities and safety.”

Shop local…and have fun
Childish is joining with other Midtown businesses to create a Bingo card shopping experience. “They just have to visit and make a small purchase and we’ll enter them in a giveaway of different baskets.”

Zinnia’s will offer a festive in-person option. “We are doing a Covid-safe open house to include many of our local artists and bands. We plan to keep everyone entertained and spread out over the store and front area.”
Wonderland’s Grand Opening falls on the store’s fifth birthday, December 5, and will feature pandemic-safe activities offered by the Museum of Discovery. The activities will be outdoors and in an adjacent empty retail space.

Shop local…and be safe
Local stores are making it easy for you to do your holiday shopping safely. All of the store owners we interviewed are offering a combination of Covid-safe features, including:

  • Social distancing in the store
  • Curbside pickup
  • Free or cheap local delivery
  • Even video shopping by appointment!

Whatever your needs, local stores want to serve you in a way that online stores can’t, with a (mask-covered) smile by local people who are supported with your shopping.

“My cup runneth over at how much love and support our community has shown us,” says Dedra Bennett, echoing what other store owners say about our community. “Blessed, beyond blessed!”

Suki Wessling is a local writer and teacher and the mother of two college students. Read more at

Featured in this article:
In Stock |
Wonderland Toys |
Childish |
Bookshop Santa Cruz |
Zinnia’s Gift Boutique |
Toque Blanche |

One Comment

  • Jean Brocklebank

    Thank you, thank you, Suki, for this important and inspiring artircle. And thanks to Brad Kava and Growing Up in Santa Cruz for making it possible!

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