Tis the season for good things in small packages

Small businesses thrive in rural communities

The Nook in Wilson decks the halls for the holiday shopping season.

WILSON — In Eastern North Carolina communities, family owned boutiques and gift shops, mom and pop diners, and specialty stores are plentiful. Small towns encourage and promote shopping locally so consumers support their neighbors and communities not just during the holiday season but throughout the year.”Small businesses make our community unique. Every town has chain stores, but locally owned small businesses give your town character,” said Steadman Lanier, owner of Belle and Co.Lanier opened the doors of Belle and Co., a women’s clothing boutique, in the spring of 2004 before the chain department stores Target, Marshalls and Ross came to Wilson.”It can be tough to compete with the big box stores, but you find ways to offer merchandise, sales and customer service you can’t find in those stores,” said Lanier. “You learn to adapt to changing economic conditions and customer needs.”Learning to adapt to the economic times and the interests of the consumer is what helps small businesses thrive year after year. Belle and Co. is located within a shopping district known as The Shoppes at Brentwood. It’s a shopping center filled with local small businesses offering residents boutiques, salons, restaurants and jewelry stores, all of which are owned by families in the community.Neighboring gift boutique The Nook has been a small business in the Wilson community since the 1950s.”I try to have something in the store for everyone,” said owner Amy Wiggins. “We carry bridal and wedding goods, baby gifts, and gifts for women, children and men. Carrying food products made in the state has been big for us.” Selling North Carolina agricultural products inside the store has been a large market for Wiggins. Shelves are donned with Bertie County Peanuts, Mamasita’s Gourmet Tortilla Chips from Newport, Chapel Hill Toffee, Salem Baking’s Moravian cookies and more.”It is hard for me to ask people to shop local if I’m not shopping local,” said Wiggins. “We always want people to know how much we appreciate our customers shopping local.”Maintaining merchandise that sets the business apart from other stores and conglomerate chains creates a special niche for these stores and one-of-a-kind shopping experiences for the customer.While Wiggins offers monogrammed acrylic napkins holders and recipe boxes, and oyster knifes with wood handles made by Southern Hooker (a small Wilson company founded by Wiggins’ husband), Lanier is offering customers blouses, dresses, necklaces, purses and accessories not found or offered in large department stores.”Belle and Co. is a women’s clothing boutique geared towards the contemporary woman. We offer everything from designer denim to trendsetting designers to jewelry to accessories,” said Lanier.Each store knows a range of prices can appeal to the budget of any consumer. Clothing in Belle and Co. ranges from a $40 to $300, with a special occasion dress topping the list. Gifts at The Nook begin at $10 and move upward with wedding china topping the list.”Wide price points appeal to more people,” said Lanier. “It is easy to shop online, but shopping local you receive customer service that is well worth the trip to the store.”Shopping local means supporting the community directly.”With small businesses you receive more personalized help and the money you spend stays in your community,” said Wiggins. “We wrap, ship and deliver while building customer relationships.”Small businesses offer unique sales and social media connections larger retailers do not. There are sidewalk sales, flash sales, and posts to Instagram of merchandise, gift ideas, and new arrivals that can be purchased, wrapped and ready for you to pick up upon arrival to the store.Belle and Co. offers customers the opportunity to make a Christmas Wish List in which Lanier sends a letter to a loved one of the customer with the wish list items listed. Anything purchased off the list receives a 20 percent discount. Two weeks before Christmas, Lanier offers customers the opportunity to bring in canned goods, which are donated to the local homeless shelter, and in exchange receive 20 percent off one item.Small businesses offer customers unique ways to help the community and support local businesses at the same time.Lanier added, “Small businesses are an extension of the owner. Business owners make the business.”