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Communities Support Local Businesses -- In Store and Online

Communities Support Local Businesses -- In Store and Online
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Elizabeth Hinckley at Turnrow Book Company in Greenwood, MS
Alexandra Watts

You’ve got just four days left to finish that last-minute holiday shopping. Some consumers will brave the crowds at malls and big-box stores. Many others will do that last-minute shopping online, taking advantage of two-day shipping. But online shopping is a mixed bag in the Mississippi Delta, as MPB’s Alexandra Watts reports.

It’s a busy day for Manash Dunlap. He’s a UPS driver, and today he’s juggling packages outside a Greenwood store that he says is keeping him really busy.

“We’re seeing about, uh, over 5,000 boxes a day — it’s tripling — doubling,” Dunlap said. Right now, Mississippi Gifts, they’re killing it. Mississippi Gifts alone is causing us to work on Saturdays.”

And it’s not just The Mississippi Gift Company. A few doors down, Turnrow Book Company is also racking up the sales.

Co-manager Elizabeth Hinckley is shelving books about music — Mississippi blues and Elvis Presley — and said Turnrow is selling more this holiday season in-person and online.

“There’s a definite uptick in web orders,” Hinckley said at the store. “Orders on eBay and in-person sales as people get ready to give gifts.”

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Books at Turnrow Book Company in Greenwood, Mississippi. At the bookstore, there are also other gifts, like vinyl records, for sale.

Hinckley said the bookstore has been selling online since 2006, on their own website for books and other merchandise and on eBay for specialty items like signed first editions. One of its biggest competitors is Amazon. In 2018, there were about 95 million Amazon Prime subscribers in the United States — that’s almost a third of the country.

Dominick Trinca shops online and said Amazon Prime offers him convenience.

“It’s really become very sophisticated because when you choose an item, you can scroll down the page and they'll show like items with comparisons. So there's a choice among vendors. There’s price competition. Online shopping...really it kind of offers it all.”

Angela Henderson used to shop online, but stopped after her bank information was compromised. This holiday season, she’s mostly shopping at local boutiques.

"They are friendly, and they will help you with anything you need,” Henderson said. “Especially when it comes to size because some clothes run small and some run big.”

It’s a little after noon and Stephanie Griffins has just opened her store, Sipi Gal Fashion Boutique, in downtown Greenville for the day. She’s making sure clothes and accessories are in order for an ongoing 12 Days of Christmas sale. She recently added a new payment option that customers seem to like. It’s called AfterPay. It’s kind of a modern day layaway, except customers get their merchandise right away.

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Sipi Gal Fashion Boutique styles in Greenville, Mississippi. The boutique sees customers from around the world, but gives back to the local community.

“Because it gives options for customers that may not be able to afford what it is that they want, they can just go online and purchase it and with AfterPay,” Griffins said. “I think you get four payments with it. Who doesn't want to pay later?"

With AfterPay, if an amount is paid on time, there is no interest, but there are late fees.

But shopping online can be a challenge in the Delta. One study from the Mississippi Department of Health Services found that 16 out of 18 Delta counties lack sufficient broadband access.

University of Mississippi marketing professor Kathy Wachter said when people who live in rural areas or small towns can’t shop online, they often travel to larger cities.

“They take four or five people with them and they all make plans. They all go up and do their major shopping and then come back home,” Wachter said, saying people in the Delta go to nearby Jackson or Memphis.

And that takes money out of the local community. Wachter and the university are working with programs across the Delta to encourage small businesses to use the internet and keep money in their communities.

“One of the ways they’re going to be able to really develop as a county and as a part of a larger community is to be entrepreneurs and develop their own businesses,” Wachter said. “One of the ways they can do that is through using the online environment and having access to that.”

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The upstairs portion of Turnrow Book Company which has a cafe and art gallery.

Back at Turnrow, Elizabeth Hinkley explains that when consumers go online to buy from local stores like hers that money goes back into the community with programs like author visits to schools, community events and investing in the Delta.

“None of those things are being offered from a big online store, so when you buy with us, you're allowing us to continue to be a presence in the community.”

That’s reflected in the store’s merchandise as well: books by Mississippi authors, books about blues music and Greenwood and even the art gallery upstairs featuring various places and spaces in the state.

There’s a pride in the Delta and Mississippi at this store.

“When you buy with Amazon, they're not doing any of those things,” Hinckley said. “So you're supporting men and women who live locally who also shop locally, who go to school and church locally. But you can do that from home. You don't need to come to us to support us.”

In a week or so, Hinckley and other local retailers will take down the holiday decorations. But the money spent in these stores and online will not only affect the businesses themselves, but also the people who live in these Delta communities.