Thanikachalam: Northwestern students should support small businesses

Neya Thanikachalam, Assistant Campus Editor

During my time in Evanston, I’ve noticed that my life has been pretty limited to the “Northwestern bubble.” I definitely haven’t spent as much time exploring Evanston and Chicago as I’d intended when I first started college.

The weekend before Thanksgiving break, I stepped outside the bubble and decided to check out Evanston’s annual Holiday Bazaar. My ultimate goal was to find a birthday present for my mom, but meeting the vendors also gave me great ideas for Christmas presents for the rest of my family and helped me realize the importance of supporting small businesses in my community.

This year’s Bazaar, held by the Woman’s Club of Evanston, hosted 50 different vendors. All the profits went to local nonprofits, like Peer Health Exchange and the Howard Area Community Center.

I don’t typically hear a lot about small businesses in Evanston, but the Bazaar gave me the chance to meet different vendors based in Evanston and the surrounding area. Everyone was very friendly, and I was able to connect with people and learn about what they did and the origin of the products they sold. Many vendors I talked to also had a connection to Northwestern — one vendor I spoke to graduated from NU, and another was a mother of recent graduates.

I also got a better grasp of the scope of the work these vendors did to make their businesses run. Troy Holmes, from the Portage Park Candle Company, told me about the extensive candle-making process, which he said included searching for antiques like old coffee tins to use as repurposed containers for his products.

Some of the items were a little pricey for the average college student. I had to search for a while to find a present for my mom that was within my budget. Despite this, I was really happy with what I bought –– one of Holmes’ candles.

However, many friends I spoke with didn’t know anything about the Bazaar or the vendors I’d met. While it’s true that shopping from Amazon is more convenient when selecting presents, exploring businesses in Evanston and the city is an experience college students should have.

Supporting small businesses is also great for the economy — there are over 30 million small businesses in the nation, and they account for about 99 percent of the nation’s businesses. They also contribute to local economies and provide people the chance to learn about the backstories of vendors and their products. This also makes the experience a lot more human and gives consumers the chance to connect with the vendor and the product in a unique and personal way.

Until I read Zoe Malin’s feature on stores located on the Main-Dempster Mile and explored different neighborhoods in Chicago with friends, I didn’t know that I was missing out on these experiences because it’s so easy to get caught up with schoolwork. Now, I’m a lot more conscious of my choices as a consumer.

So even if Small Business Saturday has passed, checking out local stores can give people great ideas for presents as the holidays approach. With Chicago so nearby, there are plenty of opportunities for students to support the local community just a train ride away.

Neya Thanikachalam is a Medill Sophomore. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.