Many local small businesses are depending on revenue from holiday shopping this month to offset losses during the pandemic. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

Small businesses have borne the economic brunt of the pandemic, with revenue streams dried up and a shifting terrain of shutdown orders. This holiday season, the question of whether El Pasoans shop local may determine the survival of many small El Paso businesses.

“The holiday period can be a very key time for a lot of businesses, particularly retail. And if they don’t have a good holiday season, a lot of businesses just aren’t going to be able to stay open after the holidays,” said Bill Clark, co-owner of Literarity Book Shop.

El Paso has already experienced catastrophic losses in small businesses since the start of the year. 

According to the Opportunity Insights Economic Tracker, 28.8% of small businesses in El Paso at the beginning of the year have closed either temporarily or permanently as of Nov. 25. In the leisure and hospitality sector, 33% have closed. In retail and transportation, 22.3% have closed. 

But at local outdoor holiday markets, activity has been bustling.

Each weekend this month, hundreds of vendors, local artisans, and small businesses set up booths at various markets and holiday fairs in the El Paso area. This past Saturday, the Upper Valley Artist & Farmers Market “Christmas at the Gardens” reported they had thousands of attendees. 

Jillina Pomales, left, assists customers with their selection of handmade jewelry at her booth at the Country Club Farmers Market on Dec. 5. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

With some vendors, El Pasoans are able to support multiple local businesses with a single purchase, since vendors often support one another and use each other’s locally sourced raw materials to make their wares. 

Charlie Heck, proprietor of Rosa Stellata Farm, an aquaponics herb farm in the Lower Valley, was at the Country Club Farmers Market Holiday Bazaar this past weekend, selling an array of specialty products including a “self care six pack” that includes local herb bundles for facials, and a honey-based facial scrub. She sources the honey from fellow vendor Carmen Shumate, of New Mexico Desert Natural Products, a Sunland Park-based apiary that produces a range of local honeys, beeswax candles, and candies and lollipops made from their honey.

At Literarity Book Shop, a single purchase can support three different local enterprises, since the shop focuses on carrying titles from local authors and local publisher Cinco Puntos Press.

“No one does local like we do,” Clark said. “Buying some books here, you’re supporting three tiers of the literary world in El Paso when you do it.”

Nationally, small businesses have struggled to withstand the pandemic, exploring all options to bolster their financial safety net in a precarious world, including local, state, and national loan programs, and even crowdfunding relief methods. Businesses owned by people of color and women have been especially hard hit, according to a research study by Insight Center for Community Economic Development. 

For Black-owned businesses, the disparity is even greater. A report by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that 41% of Black-owned businesses have already closed due to the pandemic. 

In El Paso, shoppers can find and support Black-owned businesses using El Paso Black Pages, a directory created by Black El Paso Voice.

“I make everything with love,” said Tayra Pearl, owner of Nature’s Glow, a handcrafted bath and beauty product company. She said that it’s always a good time for El Pasoans to shop local. 

“We’re family-owned, we’re family-run, we can’t really compete with the big businesses. It’s just great to know that you’re supporting your locals, and you’re supporting families, not big corporations,” she said. 

Harlan Cosner, right, bags produce for a customer at the Country Club Farmers Market on Dec. 5. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

Clark said that for many local businesses, gift cards can also be an impactful way to help with their immediate cash flow. For many businesses that didn’t qualify for government relief or are struggling, gift cards are a 0% loan directly from consumers, and a meaningful gesture of goodwill. 

The stakes are high, said Clark, who emphasized that the closure of local businesses threatens not only the economic health of the community, but the vitality of the community itself.

“Unless people support businesses, you’re going to end up losing some businesses that are important to the fabric of the community — shops that try to do meaningful things and try to make a difference in the community. That goes behind money,” he said.

El Paso Matters reached out to our readers for recommendations on their favorite small, locally owned businesses. Explore their recommendations by category below. 

Cover photo: Many local small businesses are depending on revenue from holiday shopping this month to offset losses during the pandemic. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

Disclosure: Bill Clark is a member of the El Paso Matters board of directors. 

René Kladzyk is a freelance reporter who also performs music as Ziemba. Follow her on Twitter @ziembavision.