Story and photos by CALLI PETERSON
Rachael Skidmore makes her way through her little basement shop welcoming and assisting customers. Vintage clothing adorns the walls and fills the shelves and round racks.
Skidmore leads one regular customer to the dressing room while chatting about different aspects that are happening in her life. Other customers wander into the shop and take in the friendly environment.
As Skidmore comes back to take her place behind the counter, she greets the new arrivals and begins establishing relationships with the customers once again.
Amid the tiresome franchise businesses in Salt Lake City, charming local businesses such as Skidmore’s Maeberry Vintage strive to claim their own name and brand by establishing strong ties with customers.
“Local businesses add a lot more flavor,” said Skidmore, whose business is located in downtown Salt Lake City. “They make the community more unique.”
Skidmore started her business as an online Etsy shop in 2010. But she noticed her desire to be closer to the community. She transformed her Etsy shop into a physical location in 2013, and named it Maeberry Vintage.
“It happens little by little, and everything just falls into place,” Skidmore said.
Businesses like Skidmore’s generate their community engagement by communicating with customers and welcoming new guests. Many owners and employees of local businesses push to create relationships with their customers, which creates a connection between shop and customer.
“Local businesses are important,” said Travis Low, a bookseller at Ken Sanders Rare Books. “I think they are crucial.”
He said he believes “there is more personality in local businesses.”
Low understands the value of employee-consumer interaction first-hand. Before he became a bookseller, Low was just a regular customer interested in reading rare books.
He spent a lot of his time browsing and reading books in the store near where he was living. He developed a connection with Ken Sanders, the owner of the bookstore, and ended up receiving a job through this relationship.
“I asked for a job one day, and they needed someone to do shipping,” Low said. He enjoys working somewhere that has character.
Low has been working at Ken Sanders Rare Books for about five to six years.
“I feel like there is more personality in local businesses,” Low said. “The staff cares.”
That is just what most businesses hope to show: that the staff really cares.
To help build that connection between employee and customer, Utah has its own nonprofit organization to educate and represent local businesses. Local First Utah, organized in 2005, works to provide assistance to local businesses including Mayberry Vintage and Ken Sanders Rare Books.
Kristen Lavelett, the executive director of Local First Utah, wants “buying locally to become the common norm.”
The mission of Local First Utah is “to empower a movement to recognize the value and vitality of locally owned, independent businesses to our communities and our economy,” according to Local First Utah’s website. This is achieved by “educating and engaging the public, the businesses and statewide community partners.”
Lavelett said, “Economic strength has a lot to do with the character of our communities. [Utah locals] would rather buy across the street than overseas.”
Lavelett, who speaks widely to groups about the local economic impact each consumer can have, said, “If every home in Utah shifted its spending just 10 percent, $1.3 billion would stay in the Utah economy.”
But that is just one way the economy can flourish. Local businesses owners can also contribute to the state’s financial health.
According to Local First Utah’s website, “Since local business owners live here, do their hiring here, operate their stores and offices here, buy most of their supplies and products here, pay all their taxes here, and spend their profits here, they obviously contribute far more to our local economies than do chains.”
As Mayberry Vintage owner Rachael Skidmore searches for more clothing and accessories to sell to her customers, she searches for those items from within the state.
“About 95 percent of my products are sourced locally,” Skidmore said.
By doing so, she continues to develop relationships not only with her customers, but also with her suppliers. This generates constant connections with buyers and sellers in Utah.
Whether it be starting a business like Skidmore, or working at a favorite store like Travis Low, local businesses find ways to develop deep connections with their customers.
“Local businesses are, in a real sense,” according to Local First Utah’s website, “the backbone of any community.”