Nebraska small businesses adapt to post-pandemic local shopping

Dec. 13, 2022, 8 a.m. ·

Local Shoppers at Threads - Footloose & Fancy
Local shoppers take advantage of holiday deals at Threads - Footloose & Fancy in Lincoln (Photo by Tanner Dykstra, Nebraska Public Media)

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With the holiday shopping season in full swing, small businesses in Nebraska are faring well.

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, 99% of businesses in Nebraska are small businesses. That’s over 180,000 local businesses across urban and rural communities. Tim Mittan, the Nebraska district director for the SBA, said the state’s local businesses rebounded after the pandemic.

“We tend to be prepared for things that come up. Not to say it wasn’t difficult, that we didn’t lose some businesses. But when we had the ability to get back going again, we did,” Mittan said.

Mittan also said many businesses introduced new services during the pandemic, such as making deliveries and a creating an online presence. Now, consumers are used to these new practices.

In Lincoln, Threads - Footloose and Fancy owner Jane Stricker said her business came back strong after the pandemic thanks to local shoppers.

“Things are slowly getting back to normal after COVID. Last holiday season was great for us because I think people really honed in on shopping local, and that just spread onto this year,” Stricker said.

Stricker said local shoppers know her store for its customer service. Threads started a delivery service during the pandemic and continues to provide that service today.

“During COVID I needed to be useful. How can I make a presence, even if they never even open their door? But they just saw me bringing it to them. I just wanted to show people that we genuinely cared,” she said.

Stricker said she still makes weekly deliveries around Lincoln herself. Now, however, people prefer the in-store experience.

“Our goal is when you walk into our store, if you come in in-person, you genuinely feel welcome. We want people to come and shop, soak it all in,” Stricker said.

For rural communities in Nebraska, Mittan said the post-pandemic story isn’t so much about recovery, as about steadiness.

“A lot of our businesses in the more rural areas are doing fine, they’re just not taking a lot of chances,” Mittan said.

Mittan said rural shoppers are showing loyalty to local businesses, putting a stop to the narrative of the dying Main Street. In Valentine, a small town in north central Nebraska, Broken Spoke Boutique owner Whitney Mayhew said rural shoppers have few other options.

“We do depend on the small businesses. We don’t have the big box retailers like Walmart. We have to rely on what our community has and taking pride in that,” Mayhew said.

Mayhew said her store, and Valentine in general, saw a boom in tourism business over the pandemic. As a result, the store boosted their social media presence to attract travelers. Even as tourism has dropped off, local community members appreciate the social media posts and in-store events, she said.

“We did start incorporating more events at our business. For our small community, it helps to give something extra for the people to do,” Mayhew said.

Mittan said new business practices like these are now commonplace for local businesses and local shoppers.

“Everybody keeps saying ‘Let’s go back to normal, let’s go back to normal.’ Well, this is the new norm,” Mittan said. “And our Nebraska small businesses are smart. They picked up on it, and they’re using it to their advantage,”