Battle Creek

Local retailers in Battle Creek ready to compete with in-person services and online sales

The owners of retail businesses in downtown Battle Creek are willing to put in the extra work it takes to make a sale when up against big-box chains and online shopping platforms because local retailers see the direct benefit to their community with every dollar spent.
 
Tiffany Blackman, owner of Bread & Basket LLC at 38 E. Michigan Ave., says, “It's proven that dollars spent with local businesses stay in and recycle in the local economy and help support the local community.”
 
For every $100 spent at locally owned businesses, $68 will stay in the community, according to the website. When $100 is spent with a national chain, only $43 stays in the community.
 
An article on the EntryPoint website says, “When business owners ... were asked how people can support their companies, the answer was to purchase goods and services, whether that was through gift cards, scheduling services or purchasing items online for pickup or delivery. In addition to directly supporting local small businesses and startups, there are broader economic and placemaking benefits to working with your local small business community.”
 
Mildred Mallard of Mildred’s Boutique, 15 W. Michigan in downtown Battle CreekEntryPoint is a nonprofit research institution that aims to promote entrepreneurship across the Midwest.
 
Unlike the big box chain stores or online shopping giants like Amazon, local business owners like Blackman maintain brick and mortar locations, an established online presence, and offer additional unique services available only through in-person experiences, says John Hart, Small Business Development Director for the city of Battle Creek.
 
Among these unique services, which Hart refers to as value-added, are community bicycle rides organized by employees at Mike’s Team Active Bikes, custom orders available at Simply Sensational Berries, and after-hours appointments offered at Mildred’s Boutique Apparel & Bridal Center and New York Connections.
 
“If I cannot meet you during my regular scheduled store hours, I will give you the opportunity to negotiate a time for you to come in,” says Mildred Davis, owner of Mildred’s Boutique at 15 W. Michigan Avenue.
 
The same is true of Sam Eddine, owner of New York Connections at 30 E. Michigan Avenue, who frequently stays open later on Friday and Saturday to accommodate his customers' schedules.
 
Mildred Mallard of Mildred’s Boutique, 15 W. Michigan in downtown Battle Creek.These are among the strategies that became necessary to the survival of small, independently-owned businesses when national chains and malls began to draw customer traffic away from downtown business districts, Hart says. These strategies became even more critical as the consumer’s appetite for shopping online increased.
 
“We are usually working from a deficit because our local retailers don’t have the same purchasing power and marketing budgets,” he says. “We have to figure out how we can work collaboratively with the business districts they are in so that there is an elevated pride in the image of where they are.”
 
The focus of much of this work has been on encouraging retailers to establish an online presence to give customers another way to shop.
 
“Across the city, we’ve really been talking about eCommerce for a long time,” Hart says. “But people haven’t fully embraced it. It wasn’t until COVID that, out of necessity, restaurants did it.”
 
Tiffany Blackman is the owner of Bread and Basket public market at 38 E. Michigan in downtown Battle Creek.Many local restaurateurs joined EatsBC, an online ordering platform that debuted around Easter 2020. Hart says more than 30 local restaurants and eateries are now part of the EatsBC coalition. He says, more than $100,000 of revenue is being created each month for these restaurants through the online ordering platform.
 
Hart says local retailers like Mike’s Team Active and New York Connections already have a strong online presence and others are working on it.
 
“You can either pre-sell or sell online today and take care of business today with limited staffing or risk versus waiting for people to come in and place an order,” Hart says.  “You can’t just depend on your own community. You can’t expect that the locals are going to respond really fast. Just because you exist, they may not know about you for two years.”
 
Still, he says, “Everyone has to be online in some way. You have to share your story with people. You’re trying to create sales and entice people to come along with you with your experience.”
 
And that online presence only enhances the opportunities to bring customers physically into a store.
 
Delicious treats at Simply Sensational, 80 W. Michigan in downtown Battle Creek“At Mike’s Team Active you can buy online and he sells online, but if you want a specific hand shifter or a different seat post, you’ll go into the store to do that. These are the value-added things,” Hart says.
 
The less visible value-added
 
What isn’t readily visible is the positive impact these local businesses make to the community.
 
“All of the money we make stays in the community,” says Mike Wood, owner of Mike’s Team Active. “Our employees shop at local grocery stores and gas stations and donate their money to various causes in the community which builds a stronger community.”
 
He says that his store also carries items that people aren’t going to find everywhere else and he and his employees will take the time to personally assist customers so they get exactly what they need.
 
“We are a specialty store,” Woods says.
 
Mike Wood of Mike’s Team Active Bikes, 22 W. Michigan in downtown Battle Creek talks about why people should consider buying locally.This is the case with the majority of locally-owned stores, including those in the downtown business district. Each of these owners offers their own take on why people should shop local and support their stores.
 
Mildred Davis, Mildred’s Boutique – “I think people should shop local because it supports the growth and development of their community and also gives them the opportunity to form relationships with local business owners like me. It also saves time and money because if they go out of their community, they have to pay for gas.
 
“They should shop at my store because my hours are flexible and I don’t buy a huge supply of one style or one thing. I buy a limited supply, so you won’t meet yourself down the street with someone with the same thing on. I become your personal shopper. I will see things that will look good on you and I know your style. I will buy things that will fit you and look good on you. I have some unique items that are not found locally.”
 
Some merchandise at Mike’s Team Active Bikes, 22 W. Michigan in downtown Battle CreekSam Eddine, New York Connections – “In order to help our community to continue to develop, we need to offer something other communities don’t. One of the things we can easily do is shop locally. The success of local businesses encourages others to start their own local business, this means more revenue and more jobs, which helps the economy to grow. If you shop local, you keep the money local, this helps fund important resources in our community, such as police, fire departments, and most importantly schools.

“Shopping at my store is way better than shopping online. Customers get to feel, touch, and try the products before buying it. If you are buying a jacket online, you wouldn’t be able to tell whether it’s made out of good materials or cheap ones. When you shop at my store, you also can get expert advice from someone who has the right knowledge, we don’t just sell people whatever they choose, we also help them choose the right outfit for them. Also, let’s not forget the immediate availability of products which means saving up on time and extra money paid for shipping. We’ve been in business for 50 years now, and what helped us to last that long is the relationships we‘ve built with our customers, to us they’re not just customers, they are a part of our success story.”
 
Tiffany Blackman, Bread & Basket  – “Folks should shop local because when they do, they support a local family, a local entrepreneur's dream (or multiple entrepreneurs), and it supports a thriving community. It's proven that dollars spent with local businesses stay in and recycle in the local economy and help support the local community. Bread & Basket, LLC has many unique products to choose from skincare/haircare/beauty, clothing and accessories, specialty foods, and housewares. We support over 40 other small businesses brands throughout the U.S. and offer entrepreneur training and shelf space specifically for women of color-owned businesses local to Battle Creek & Kalamazoo. Our mission is to develop, promote, and provide a network of resources for WOC-owned businesses. We invite the community to find their new favorite products and to support a public market that aims to provide a shelf for local entrepreneurs when it is typically hard for them to find.”
 
Markeeta Palmer, Simply Sensational Berries – “Personally, I believe people should shop locally because they are putting money back into the community. Also, when shopping local you are supporting someone’s dream. People should shop at SSB because everything is created and made with love. We strive at SSB to bring the sweetest touch to every occasion.”

Read more articles by Jane Simons.

Jane Simons is a freelance reporter and writer with more than 20 years of experience and also is the owner of In So Many Words based in Battle Creek. She is the Project Editor for On the Ground Battle Creek.