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Whether it's a cup of coffee, a coat or a coveted piece of jewelry for that special someone, Australian Community Media are encouraging residents to support the brick-and-mortar and nearby producers that share their hometown in the lead up to Christmas.
And it seems Tasmanians are already taking up the mantle, with retail in the state blossoming over the second half of this year. Tasmania's retail sector, which has remained sheltered from the more severe impacts of the pandemic, posted a record retail turnover of $661.5 million in July, shrugging off a lockdown-related fall nationally.
Retail figures have remained relatively steady in the preceding months - most recently posting another two per cent gain in September.
Those figures could be set to push even higher with a welcome spike in wage growth nationally lining people's pockets in the lead up to Christmas. The steady rise in retail leading into the season has already been noted by a number of Launceston shop owners, including Bruce Webb.
"For at least the last six weeks, we've noticed a big change. There's a big return to supporting bricks-and-mortar," he said.
Mr Webb, who has run Cocoon Living Tea on George Street for more than 16 years, said that even through the pandemic people we're reaching for a comforting cup.
"The public have been drinking more tea for its health benefits as well as to help them stay at home and deal with difficult times."
This festive season could mark an important turning point for many businesses hoping a global economic recovery could help offset the difficulties posed to many during the pandemic like Petrarch's Bookshop owner Marcus Durkin, who said he and his team were nervous when they emerged from lockdown last year - but found a public waiting to support them once again.
"We've been really happy since we reopened. Books have survived the pandemic fairly well and people have been supporting us. They want to support locals and we really appreciate their support," he said
That said, while much of the world was forced to close up shop during the last year, some of Tasmania's small business owners have benefitted from a state-wide shift in shopping habits that has occurred under the pandemic.
Pandemic pushes Tasmanians closer to home
The value of brick-and-mortar shopping has come to the forefront under the pandemic, sparking support from the state government, stating the act of buying locally is "more important now than ever, as we recover and rebuild a stronger Tasmania post COVID-19". A state government's pledge to support local businesses has already seen more than 2000 contracts awarded to Tasmania-based operations. Furthermore, under the shadow of the pandemic, buying locally became a way for communities to support each other.
That sentiment has been echoed by Small Business Minister Sarah Courtney, who said that as a former small business owner herself she knows how important it is to keep the state's cities and towns active and alive.
"More than just helping local businesses, buying local keeps money moving through our economy, keeps Tasmanians in jobs and contributes to the fabric of our communities," she added.
And that support from local buyers soon comes back to benefit them when considering the wider economics that are at play, as outlined by economist Saul Eslake.
"Buying a locally made product makes it more likely that the spending that people undertake will generate employment within Australia and those profits will in turn circulate within the Australian community and will also generate tax revenue for Australian governments, which they can in turn spend."
As well as reestablishing the importance of small businesses, the pandemic has also triggered a series of international trade issues driving consumers to outlets closer to home, including a global silicon shortage that has bottlenecked the supply of consumer tech considerably in the last two years.
This - coupled with widespread freight, shipping and logistic disruptions - means that buying from an overseas supplier has become less and less convenient. That inconvenience may be hampering supply issues for some retailers but it also means the pair of shoes, laptop or book closest to home is probably the easiest and quickest purchase.
The shopping 'experience' re-emerges
But while the need for community support and the wider macroeconomic environment may have driven many to once again consider shopping locally, it appears what may keep them there in the long term are the rediscovered benefits therein.
When asked why she continues to visit the Launceston CBD to shop, resident Sharon White said she wanted to help locals.
"People need a job - but it also gives me a chance to meet friends for a coffee and get out. You don't get that with online shopping," she said.
That sentiment was also echoed by Mr Webb of Cocoon Living Tea, who believes it's a kind of mental and physical wellness that drives people of all ages back to the CBD.
"[Shoppers] can take a walk in the fresh air, go to a movie or a small cafe or restaurant, have a bite to eat, do a bit of shopping and interact," Mr Webb said
Another boon returning customers may be encountering is a host of experienced staff ready to help them pick the right item in a world of ever-increasing choices - a benefit not lost on Sam Luck, managing director of Allgoods on York Street.
"We're constantly focused on the customer and making sure the store suits them," he said.
And according to Mr Luck that customer-assistant dialogue goes both ways allowing his shop to keep in tune with the wants and needs of the city's residents.
"Any staff member can talk to me and, being a smaller company, we are more flexible. It's easier for us to change and adapt to what the customer needs. That would be much harder with a larger company."
Likewise, Andrew Pitt, President of the Launceston Chamber of Commerce noted a similar effect in his own family's business, Neil Pitt's Menswear on Brisbane Street. When asked why the family's store has remained a mainstay for Launceston shoppers for more than seven decades, he answer was the people that make it up.
"There's a depth of knowledge here that people appreciate. It speaks to a deep commitment to personnel service."
For those still desperate to buy online, the lingering threat of lockdown has many local retailers revamping their online offering to compete with the bigger brands.
"We were lucky we adapted when we did. We revamped our website about four months before COVID hit. Online sales are really starting to take off," Mr Luck said.
But according to Dianne Sheehan, who owns House of Shoes on Brisbane Street, online and in-store shouldn't be thought of as opposing one another and can in fact work in unison.
"We have customers who check what we have online and then they can come in and try it one and see if they like it," she said.
A generational legacy continues on
Ms Sheehan also noted another important aspect to the local shopping experience, the participation in city's history and merchant history - something she knows firsthand.
"I got to know the previous owners of House of Shoes while I worked as a student. One day years later I walked in and the owner said he was closing the shop. The next day I walked in and said I wanted to buy it," she said.
In the three and a half years that she's owned the business, Ms Sheehan has seen the goodwill that a respected retailer can bring in Launceston.
"Because we've already established we have that regular loyal customer - they've been really welcoming," she said.
Similarly, both Mr Pitt and Mr Luck believe the collective century their two businesses have operated in Launceston has had a generational impact on the community - one also noted by Mr Durkin.
"We've been here so long now we have grandchildren shopping where their grandparents did. We like being part of that community."
Ultimately then, perhaps what's driving customers back to their local retailers is participation in a fading community history, a history that the last 18 months had snapped back into focus.
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