Tired of crowded malls? Buy local this holiday season

This holiday season, skipping the crowded big box malls to shop locally can lead to an abundance of both short-term and long-term benefits, including bolstering the local economy and finding meaningful, Winnipeg-centric gifts, says Katy MacKinnon.

Supporting independent businesses helps local economy and lets shoppers make personal connections

The Forks is just one of many places Manitoba shoppers can find locally made gifts and support independent businesses. (The Forks)

Crossing off items on a holiday shopping list is a nightmare for many, as crowded malls, angry parking lot drivers and extended rush-hour traffic work in tandem to turn away even the most prepared holiday shoppers.

Skipping the crowded big-box malls to shop locally can lead to an abundance of both short-term and long-term benefits, including bolstering the local economy and finding meaningful, Winnipeg-centric gifts.

Local shopping helps local economy

Numerous studies attest to the economic power of buying local. The U.S.-based economic analysis firm Civic Economics began conducting a series of studies in 2002 looking at the degree to which independent businesses and chain competitors provided economic benefits to their communities.

According to their 2013 study based in B.C., independent businesses pump more than 2.6 times as much revenue into the local economy as chain competitors.

And compared to chains with equal revenue, B.C. independent businesses produced more jobs and spent more on wages, the study said.

And a 2013 joint study by the Columbia Institute, the business alliance LOCO BC, and the UBC's Sauder School of Business said local retailers were more likely than chain competitors to hire local workers, donate to local charities, distribute business profits locally and purchase goods from local suppliers.

New local shopping app

Buying local translates to more local revenue, jobs and wages. From an economic standpoint, buying local is a win-win situation. 

A new project from the Winnipeg-based software company Protegra aims to make local shopping even easier.

Their app, The Local Frequency, has a simple-to-navigate interface that lets you scroll through participating businesses and find location and contact information, and provides virtual punch cards for select retailers.

The Winnipeg-based app The Local Frequency uses a points system that lets users receive rewards for shopping at more than 70 local retailers. (Facebook)
The app uses a points system that lets users receive rewards for shopping at more than 70 local retailers. By spending at participating local businesses, you receive dollar-value points to put towards your next local purchase.

Personal connections

The benefits of buying local are not solely economic. In a digital age when online communication is often prioritized over face-to-face communication, buying local offers shoppers a chance for a deeper connection to Winnipeg and a community that loves this city with all its heart.

Many local gift shops are staffed by only a handful of employees and at some, the business owner is the sole storefront staff member. This decision is often purposeful, as local retailers are usually more than happy to chat with prospective customers and get to know their diverse community.

Winnipeg-centric gifts

It's a common theme that year after year, you'll have a few people on your gift list who are nearly impossible to buy for.

Local business owners can take the stress out of the situation by helping to suggest gift ideas for your loved ones, taking thoughtful care to help you make the perfect selection. They may even direct you to competing local retailers who are better able to supply what you're searching for.

Local businesses at The Forks and in neighbourhoods like Osborne Village and the Exchange District offer plenty of options for made-in-Manitoba gifts. (The Forks/Instagram)

Many local business owners live and breathe Manitoba, and reflect their love through their storefront ambiance and selection of products sourced by local artisans.

Winnipeg-themed gifts like the typographic map of Winnipeg at Tiny Feast will tug at the heartstrings.

Mounted and framed photos of Winnipeg animals shot by local photographers, soaps dusted with real flowers that look tasty enough to eat and books written in — and about — Manitoba are just a few examples of the many place-specific gifts found in local shops across the city.
Some Manitoba-themed gifts from Tiny Feast in the Exchange District. (

Local hotspot bus connections

For those with parking concerns, many local gift shops are centrally located and accessible by major bus routes.

For the widest selection of local retailers in one location, start your shopping trip at The Forks and Johnston Terminal. The free Route 1 and 2 Downtown Spirit shuttles have a drop-off point just steps from the entrance to The Forks Market.

Hopping on a bus (like Winnipeg Transit's Santa Bus, which raises money for the Christmas Cheer Board) can help shoppers avoid parking worries. (City of Winnipeg)
From there, take the Downtown Spirit to the Exchange District, where you'll find everything from stationary and gift shops to high fashion and jewelry.

Both the Route 16 and 18 buses, which stop at the corner of McDermot Avenue and Main Street, will take you to Osborne Village, where you can cap off your shopping trip with edgy fashion, organic skin care products, and kitchenware.   

Besides the evidence in support of buying local for economic purposes and the opportunity for strengthening local connections, buying local shows your love for Winnipeg and the businesses that keep our local economy flourishing.

This holiday season, consider shopping locally — your wallet and your neighbourhood business owner will thank you.

Katy MacKinnon is a Winnipeg writer and feminist advocate.


Katy MacKinnon is a queer, non-binary freelance writer in Winnipeg. Their work has appeared in CBC Manitoba, Maclean's, Daily Xtra and, before its closure, Outwords magazine.