BERLIN – Community over competition.
That’s the message a group of local boutique owners are trying to promote during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last week, Taylor Harman and her mother, Pam Harman, co-owners of Magnolia Rifle Boutique in Fenwick Island, launched a social media campaign recognizing local boutiques across Delmarva.
While non-essential businesses in Maryland and Delaware are closed to stop the spread of COVID-19, Taylor Harman said many local boutiques continue to operate online through websites and social media.
“We were trying to think of a creative and kind way to get people talking about some of our local shops,” she said. “Some of us do have online stores, and a lot of us are taking orders through social media messages. So we are just trying to get the word out.”
Magnolia Rifle Boutique posted a Facebook message last week encouraging the community to stay home, be kind and shop local. The campaign – which included the hashtags #CommunityOverCovid and #CommunityOverCompetition – also featured a photo collage of local women boutique owners from Berlin to Rehoboth Beach.
“We want the community to know we are still here,” Harman said, “working together to do better for our community and keep our doors open.”
Harman said those that support local businesses support the entire community. She noted, for example, that many local boutiques donate to sports teams, churches and nonprofits throughout the year.
“When you support a small business, you are supporting their families, you are supporting their employees and their families, and you are supporting local baseball teams and church events …,” she said.
Michelle Gemberling, co-owner of Indigo Octopus, said the social media campaign is a great way to encourage the community to support local retail stores. At her store, for example, online sales are being used to pay full-time employees.
“At Indigo Octopus, one reason we continue to sell is because we want to continue supporting our full-time employees. We are not laying anyone off,” she said. “So part of our effort in trying to sell our inventory is to fulfill our payroll obligations.”
Gemberling said most sales at Indigo Octopus typically occur at its brick-and-mortar site. Now that the store is closed, she said her business has had to adapt to online-only transactions.
“It has had a dramatic impact on our business …,” she said. “Online business is not our main revenue stream.”
Regardless, Gemberling said Indigo Octopus continues to offer “elevated beach lifestyle” items during the pandemic shutdown. She encouraged everyone to shop local.
“I think it’s really important to support local businesses because they are the backbone of our economy here at the beach,” she said.
Body Double Swimwear owner Liz Welsh said she was excited to be part of the campaign.
“It’s a great way to show unity during this time when we are all struggling …,” she said. “We have no idea when this is going to clear up or when our businesses are going to be restored, so it’s a great way to come together for each other.”
With no online store, and a low demand for swimwear at this time, Welsh said business has dwindled. She noted, however, that the campaign drives new followers – and future customers – to websites and social media accounts.
“We are just these women entrepreneurs that are trying to survive and do what we love …,” she said. “Our customers, the locals and the visitors, allow us to do just that.”
Chelsea Zweigle, district manager of ish Boutique, agreed.
“Supporting local and shopping local helps a neighbor …,” she said. “Even if you can’t shop, you can share and like our posts. Helping where you can helps us out in the long run.”
Zweigle said ish Boutique was happy to support other local small business owners through the campaign.
“It’s not necessarily about pushing sales as much as it is about pushing community,” she said. “It really is community over competition.”
Harman said those wishing to support any of the local businesses can visit their websites and social media pages, or share and like social media posts.
“We are very thankful for our community,” she said. “We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for everyone else supporting us.”