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Should we do more to shop local? Elgin business leader and owners of Aberdeen’s Foodstory have their say

Shopping locally can be more expensive and time consuming but Elgin's BID manager says it supports the "heartbeat" of the community.

Elgin Bids Manager Angela Norrie (left)
Elgin Bids Manager Angela Norrie (left) said shopping local costs independent businesses more time and money too. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson.

Shopping locally has many benefits but in this current climate, it is a lot easier to count the pennies.

As wages struggle to cover the ever-increasing bills, this Christmas shoppers will be striving to be even more savvy.

With high streets bustling with people hunting down the perfect gift, the push to Shop Local can often be lost in the manic gift-buying spree.

While few would struggle to not applaud the idea of supporting local businesses and people, the reality can be a little off putting.

Society. Kirsty Cameron's pop-up department store.
Visiting small local businesses can be time consuming and out with people’s budget. Image: Kath Flannery / DC Thomson.

Sometimes it is a lot easier to cheer on the little guys when our hard-earned cash and time are not involved.

However, it might not just be that hand-crafted bar of soap for your gran on the line.

It could be the survival of “the heartbeat of our community”.

Covid was almost easy compared to now

For the past few years, local businesses have been hit hard with a number of challenges.

Many have had to close down emptying our already patchy high streets.

For those who have managed to stayed open, it has not been easy.

Owners Sandy McKinnon and Lara Bishop outside Foodstory in Aberdeen.
Owners Sandy McKinnon and Lara Bishop outside Foodstory. Image: Kath Flannery.

In Aberdeen, Foodstory Cafe on Thistle Street just celebrated its 10-year anniversary in September.

The owners, staff and local community made sure to mark it with various celebrations following what co-owner and director of the business, Sandy McKinnon, said had been a tough year.

He said: “It costs us now between £10,000-£15,000 a month more to operate the same operation we did two years ago.

“It’s just astronomical.

“That’s including the wages going up every year by at least a pound minimum which increases our payroll by around £5,000 a year.”

To heat the building, the energy bill has also increased by around £2,500 a month (or by £3,5000 at the height of the energy crisis).

Shopping locally grows culture

Sandy and business partner Lara Bishop started a crowdfund in 2013, the first successful one for a cafe in Scotland, to create a community style cafe.

Aiming to create an “escape from the world” – equipped with really good food and coffee – Sandy said they strive to create and support community.

Something which they also try to reflect through their ordered produce.

A range of Foodstory traybakes on a wooden board.
Foodstory specialises in making delicious food suitable for a range of dietary requirements. Image: Kath Flannery/ DC Thomson.

Sandy said using local suppliers can be a logistical nightmare and take more time and effort but it was important to help support culture growth in the city.

The dad-of-two added: “If you use independent small and medium businesses, you have this variety where you can support local suppliers and make a difference and it makes you stand out.

“It’s more of a conscious effort but having said that, if you do shop local, you get more unique things and a more unique experience.

“Particularly in the café culture in Aberdeen. If we start losing cafes, the more we lose we’re going to be stuck with big chains.

“It would be a shame to lose that and shopping local does help.”

Profile photo of Angela Norrie smiling at camera.
Elgin BID Manager Angela Norrie. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson.

‘It’s a way of supporting the heartbeat of our community’

Online shopping has also proved to be a great risk to our town centres.

To help tackle this in Moray, the local Elgin Gift Card was upgraded last year to include a digital version.

Now with over 100 businesses taking part, Angela Norrie, manager at Elgin BID, said it was helping rebuild that connection between the individual and businesses.

She said: “It’s a way to support the heartbeat of our community. And local businesses thrive on purchases and actually having the community come in their doors and have those conversations.

“Between all the rates increases, the VAT, everything, this has been such a hard time.

“It’s not just about shopping locally or giving the gift everybody would wish for, this is about survival too.”

Shop Local: Better quality and shopping experience

While hand-crafted or local goods can be more expensive and takes more effort to find than a few clicks online, Angela argued the quality and shopping experience was much better.

And like Sandy, she said customers are not the only ones giving up more time and money.

She explained: “Our shop keepers, when they’re making or investing to provide products, they are spending valuable time to make sure that it’s got everything you require and more which obviously does come at a cost to them.

Someone holding an Elgin gift card outside a store.
Over 100 businesses are part of the Elgin Gift Card scheme. Image: Elgin BID

“Local produce isn’t as easy to be able to obtain or it comes at a higher cost too.

“A lot of our businesses, it is not necessarily about their profits, it’s about making sure the customer still gets that best experience at all times.

“Online you can get things cheaper, there is a higher cost through the door but there’s a lot of time spent making products better.

“It’s about the experience around it and how you’re made to feel at that point in time as well.”

Supporting creatives make community more interesting

For those wanting to find some new local brands, Kirsty Cameron at Second Home Studio and Cafe in Aberdeen said winter markets were a perfect way to start.

The not-for-profit organisation has just moved to a new premise on 1 Gaelic Lane this week and is a hub for wellbeing and creativity.

Kirsty said she appreciates shopping locally is not within everyone’s budget or capacity but even taking business cards can be helpful.

Kirsty Cameron from Second Home Studio and Cafe in Aberdeen smiling into the camera at her pop up shop.
Kirsty Cameron. from Second Home Studio and Cafe. Image: Kath Flannery/ DC Thomson.

“You don’t necessarily have to buy something on the day,” she added.

“It’s amazing if you do, but even just taking their card or their flyers away and researching them afterwards so you can buy things again or just following them on social media is a really good way to support that creative as well.”

She added this support of creativity helps to encourage more cultural events, community and diversity.

Kirsty said: “It’s not only good for a creating a circular economy and supporting people in your community, it also means the people who are creating things here continue to stay here and it makes it a more interesting place to live.”