On main street Le Mars alongside the coffee and ice cream, you'll find hidden gems with gifts galore.
"We always have our customers in the back of our minds when we are looking for that special something to bring into our store." Jill Mescher and Cary Penning have a clothing boutique, well, a few actually! And they are all under one roof.
Penning has Shop Cary Boutique, with clothing and gifts for women in all stages of their life. Mescher has Sugar and Spice Children's and Tween Boutique and Lily Zita Teen Boutique, with items for kids and teens of all ages.
"Everything is hand-picked," Penning said. "We go to markets and we sourced the items and if we love them we know that everybody else will love them too."
Down the block, sits Simpatico Decor, a "cool, funky store" as described by owner, Jennifer Scholten. Here you can find new and vintage pieces of decor, and many one-of-a-kind items you'll likely not find anywhere else.
"I don't like to buy a lot of any one thing I tend to be a one-and-done store," Scholten said while looking around her boutique. "There are a few things that I do like a lot and that I will order and bring back in. I have and my joke is it's David Bowie."
While there is a Bowie portrait hung on the wall for sale, Scholten also gives space for local artists around northwest Iowa.
Each of these shops brings shoppers a unique experience, and they aren't the only ones that do.
"We have everything from birth to 106 and we can prove it in writing!" Domingo Torres has built one of the biggest toy stores in the Siouxland area. Thinker Toys sits inside a castle in Sioux City's Singing Hills and he really does have something for everyone of every age.
"When somebody comes here, we are supposed to and we do know more about our toys than anybody that walks through the door," Torres said. "So, therefore, you can touch, feel and you know what exactly that toy or that item does or doesn't do."
Torres and his team, who have been in business for over 30 years, pick out every toy they sell, attending vendor shows nationwide, ensuring everyone who comes into the castle will walk out with the perfect item.
"Come on and just let us show you what store we have," Torres said, "because of the fact that we will try to make you look good when you get that precedent."
And during the season of giving, shopping locally doesn't just help you find the perfect gift. Supporting small businesses helps your hard-earned dollar go farther.
"I do hear people saying 'well downtown used to be this or used to be that'. Well, buying online depletes from the sales downtown," Scholten explained. "If you want a vibrant downtown that's going to support your community and attract people to your community, you should be down here shopping."
According to sustainableconnections.org, local businesses donate more per sales dollar to local nonprofits, events, and teams compared to national chains, keeping money in the local economy.
"I feel like there's a lot of small pieces that paint a big picture and with shopping small businesses, we paint the bigger picture of creating a community more like a home rather than somewhere just to live," said Mescher.
'Small businesses will donate to your charitable thing," Scholten said, using the town's little league team as an example, "I would be hard-pressed to see if Amazon's going to do that."
Shopping local also helps you find the right gift for your friend or family member, or even yourself, with help from those who hand-picked the items in their shop.
"We get to know the likes and dislikes of our customers and seek things out for them," said Scholten. "I'm always I always have a list of things that I'm hunting for someone's looking for a specific kind of a chair or they're looking for a piece of art or that sort of thing. So that's a personal touch. You definitely don't get in the in the big box stores."
"We always have our customers in the back of our minds when we are looking for that special something to bring into our store," said Mescher. Keeping money in the local economy means a better community overall," which is something the Le Mars Chamber of Commerce sees first-hand.
"One of the reasons I love shopping local is because you can't get the experience of walking into a shop being greeted by a community member who not only loves the community, but they want I mean their whole livelihood depends on it," said Michaela Brown, President of the Le Mars Chamber. "And so you're gonna get the best shopping experience when you shop local and come to your local shops."
"I think the community is seeing the benefit of that," said Scholten. "There's a lot of new businesses coming in downtown Le Mars and a lot of nice new growth with people buying buildings and wanting to bring in new businesses."
And when checking out a local shop for the first time, you may just find the perfect gift, maybe something you didn't know you were looking for.
"You're going to find some great gems," Brown said. "You're going to have a wonderful experience meeting the shop owners and some good food along the way. So you just can't beat shopping local."
"All we ask is that people give us a chance just look here first," Scholten said. "We're not going to have everything this is a nice little boutique. And if they give us a chance they might be surprised by what they would find."
"We're very proud and pleased to be here," Torres said.
To find a list of local businesses in your area, check your community's Chamber of Commerce website. And to learn more about each store listed here, you can find the links in their names within the story above.
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