LOGAN SQUARE — As many loaded up on deals during Amazon Prime Day, small businesses struggling to survive the coronavirus pandemic urged Chicagoans to patronize neighborhood stores instead.
Some are stressing the importance of supporting local, independent businesses in the lead-up to the holidays. Others are taking direct aim at Amazon, which has gobbled up business from mom-and-pop shops for years.
Pilsen Community Books, 1102 W. 18th St., took the latter approach.
On Tuesday, the first day of Amazon Prime Day, the co-op book store started giving 10 percent off to customers who emailed them proof of a canceled Prime subscription.
Co-owner Mandy Medley said their main objective was to raise awareness about Amazon’s business practices.
“It’s more about … the horrible things Amazon does to our economy than it is any in-store promotion,” Medley said.
Indie bookstores, in particular, have suffered greatly in the face of Amazon.
The way Medley describes it is Amazon “took advantage of unlimited lines of credit to undercut the list prices of books, selling books at unnaturally low prices,” which made it extremely difficult for indie bookstores to compete.
“People get used to these unnaturally low prices for books that really don’t reflect the amount of labor that goes into selling them, and they come in and have sticker shock,” Medley said.
Long before the pandemic, Pilsen Community Books was in peril. Perhaps because of this, the store’s anti-Amazon campaign struck a chord with customers.
About 15 customers emailed the bookstore by Wednesday afternoon with proof of a canceled Amazon Prime subscription, Medley said. Many more reached out to express support.
“Amazon made record profits during the pandemic by exploiting its workers while the rest of us are suffering. I think people are ready for change,” Medley said.
Indeed, as businesses closed and struggled to get federal aid, Amazon doubled its profits during the pandemic.
Calls to support struggling small businesses have become more frequent as the country battles a deep economic recession.
This week, vintage clothing shop Lost Girls Vintage posted on Instagram, “When you support small business you support a dream, your community, and your city.”
In the post, the shop called on people to tag their favorite small business and share the post on their own page.
The post was shared more than 400 times, possibly the most shares the shop, which has locations in West Town and Logan Square, has drawn.
“It definitely feels like there’s a bigger energy around [shopping local], a bigger movement around that’s growing,” Lost Girls co-owner Kyla Embrey said.
Like Medley, Embrey said Amazon has “shifted the consumer mindset” and made it difficult for small businesses like hers to survive.
“The fastest shipping, the freest shipping, the most flexible return policies — as a business, it can be hard to compete with that on many levels,” she said.
That, combined with a global pandemic and an economic recession, has created a recipe for disaster.
“Right now it’s just a super important time for consumers to be mindful of how we’re spending our money and who we want to see on the other side of this,” Embrey said.
Like many other small business owners across Chicago, Kelly Marie Thompson is nervous going into the holiday season.
Thompson, the owner of the Logan Square flower and gift shop Fleur, 2651 N. Milwaukee Ave., said Chicagoans should start shopping for the holidays now to ensure small businesses make it through what could be a difficult holiday season.
“You can always buy a gift certificate for yourself and use it later as you see what’s being pushed out,” Thompson said. “That early purchase is going to secure jobs.”
Thompson was driving around Wednesday when she noticed local restaurant Masa Azul had temporarily closed, the latest in a string of Logan Square businesses to close in recent months.
“It was a gut punch,” she said. “I don’t want to turn into this strip of chains. I don’t think the neighborhood wants that, either. I do believe the neighborhood is doing the absolute best they can considering the circumstances, but I do think there are little ways to do more if they’re really invested in helping.”
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