By Jennifer Sadler

There’s nothing small about the effect small businesses have on the Columbus-area community. The nationwide “shop local” movement has taken a strong foothold here because residents understand that what’s good for local business is good for local customers, the community and the economy. And the holidays are a great time to not only reinvest those extra dollars you’re spending, but also to spread holiday cheer by showing your local mom-and-pop businesses that you appreciate them and want them to succeed.

This year, the average holiday shopper will spend an estimated $751 on gifts, decorations and other holiday purchases, according to the National Retail Federation. Holiday shopping can be stressful, but those who’ve embraced the notion of “buy local” know that it can be a warm and fuzzy feel-good experience.

Buy local enthusiasts in Columbus are aware of the positive, long-term impact of their buying decisions and are increasingly putting their money into their own neighborhoods. Buying at independent stores circulates two to four times more revenue back into the local economy than buying at chains, research shows, because local merchants tend to buy their goods and services in the immediate region, donate to local charities and hire locally. All of this sends a ripple of economic benefits through other businesses in the area and supports jobs.

Columbus is no different from other cities in that we’re proud of our uniqueness and diversity and want to continue to nurture and preserve our history and traditions. As evidence of our dedication to community, Columbus is rife with wonderfully unique and vibrant neighborhoods featuring locally owned boutiques, coffeehouses, wine shops, stores featuring local artisans, restaurants, service-oriented businesses and more—with many of them having been around for decades.

Neighborhoods that attract holiday shoppers every year, like the nationally known Short North Arts District, Clintonville, Olde Worthington, Olde Town East, German Village, Bexley and many more—all have their own distinct character and rich history with independent merchants who specialize in the tastes and needs of their residents.

If you’re not lucky enough to live an area where you regularly experience the charm and convenience that independent merchants and locally owned restaurants can offer, a visit to the North Market is an experience you don’t want to miss. Established back in 1876, the North Market is Columbus’ only public market and an incubator of small businesses.

More than a million people visit the historical North Market each year, many of whom have been regulars for decades. Shoppers will find butcher shops, seafood, bakeries, candy shops, local produce, wine, restaurants, cookware, gift shops and more. In addition to the quality goods and one-of-a-kind gifts shoppers can find, the attentive and personable service that the merchants deliver brings people back time after time. Market merchants are also incredibly supportive of one another—their collective success and cooperation is essential in keeping the Market alive and preserving its traditions.

Mary Martineau, the director of marketing at the North Market agrees that shopping locally is not only good for the economy; it’s good for the spirit. She says the North Market is “a close-knit community of merchants and farmers who are outstanding at what they do, supportive of the efforts of their fellow entrepreneurs and appreciative of visitors and shoppers.”

“Folks who regularly shop or dine at the North Market become ‘one of the family,’” said Martineau. “There’s a sense of community here that is buoyed by the knowledge that one’s dollars are largely re-spent locally and are helping to sustain local families and farms.”

Be sure to visit the North Market for their annual Holiday Open House & Craft Extravaganza on Saturday, December 1 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday, December 2 from 12-5 p.m. The second floor will be devoted to forty-five local artisans and crafters for a weekend of shopping for distinctive handmade gifts. Jewelry, glass, textiles, bath and body products and knitted items are just a few of the categories represented by the local artists in our craft fair. Local musicians will provide holiday tunes to shop and dine by and the kids will enjoy the face painting and the Nutcracker Toy Solider.

In the vein of small businesses supporting with one another and connecting with residents, the Small Business Beanstalk (SBB), a local-first company that helps locally owned businesses grow and connect with new customers, was founded by Timothy Wolf Starr in 2009.

According to their website, the SBB “uses problem-solving, networking and relationship-building techniques to grow small businesses through a unique combination of matchmaking and concierge services.”

The most tangible manifestation of the SBB’s efforts to encourage residents to patronize local shops is the SBB Community Card. Free to anyone who signs up for it.

“The SBB discount card started as a tool to connect the community with local businesses – like a ‘thank you’ when they shopped local,” said Starr. “The SBB is now three years old and we have hundreds of participating businesses. Each business gets to decide what their discount offer is—and card holders can get anything from a couple dollars off of a movie to 10 percent off groceries.”

Up until September, businesses paid an annual membership fee, but now the SBB is trying something different with a gift card program. Visitors to the site can buy gift vouchers for local businesses at the online SBBeanstore for around 30% off face value. This system allows the SBB to continue making the money they need to facilitate the business and local merchants can attract new customers.

We asked Starr to talk about gauging the success of the program.

“The Olde Worthington neighborhood is one of my favorite examples,” said Starr. “When we first started the SBB, the program was only available in the Short North neighborhood. But this guy, Steve Weaver who owns the Candle Lab shop in Worthington heard about the SBB and asked if they could be a part of it. I told him that it wasn’t available outside of the Short North yet. He called back several hours later and said the rest of the members of the Worthington Business Association were ready to join and now we have neighborhood businesses in Worthington and all over the city involved.”

Starr says it’s been amazing to see how the businesses have used SBB to their advantage and to help promote one another. For those who are looking to venture out to do some holiday shopping in local but unfamiliar neighborhoods, SBB helps shoppers zero in on independent shops and other businesses in neighborhoods throughout Columbus. Go to http://thesbb.com/neighborhoods to explore more than 25 neighborhoods in the Central Ohio area with listings of hundreds small businesses.  You can also find CDs from local musicians and more at the SBBeanstore.

Another excellent opportunity for shoppers to find homegrown, handmade gifts is at Celebrate Local located at Easton Town Center.  Celebrate local showcases the best of Ohio-produced handmade and artisan goods.

And don’t forget about supporting your local arts organizations, artists and crafters!  Gifts made by local artisans and tickets to concerts and performances make great gifts.  There are countless holiday events going on that will feature live performances from BalletMet’s The Nutcracker and Columbus Jazz Orchestra’s Home for the Holidays to Columbus Children's Theatre's The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.  Check out ColumbusArts.com for more holiday events.

If you're interested buying art, the ColumbusArts.com Artist Directory has more than 500 artist profiles.  Many have work for sale for the holiday season.