#OTRisOpen: A conversation about ecommerce, plus a guide to local shopping

Why do we shop local? It’s not just the idea of keeping our businesses afloat — it’s also about supporting the people who support our people. Like Jose Salazar, who is concerned about finding local nonprofits that help restaurant workers who have lost their jobs, even when he’s worried about keeping his own businesses afloat, or Mica’s owners — who watched their windows get smashed in after George Floyd’s murder — and were more concerned with supporting Black Lives Matter than handling their repairs.


It’s small business owners like Victor and Jocelyn Williams, who, during the 2008–2009 recession years, paid for the privilege of being in business because they had the money to keep paying their employees even if they had to pay out of pocket. Closing would have meant laying their hard-working people off.


“I distinctly remember one guy that holiday season said ‘I'm only shopping your store and, like, three or four other small businesses because that's it. I'm not going to the malls this year.’ I think that's a sentiment that actually got us through the recession,” Victor says.


And the Williams are not the only ones who strive to keep their businesses open while also taking care of their employees. It helps, in part, to know the back story — the start, reason, and passion behind the business.



It was Kismet


Victor and Jocelyn Williams met on the island of Hawaii more than 30 years ago, married, and traveled the world before coming back to Victor’s hometown of Cincinnati to open a small business selling goods inspired by their experiences. Now they own four Kismet locations (a women's boutique offering an eclectic assortment of carefully curated clothing, shoes, jewelry, gifts, home goods, and accessories); two Pangeas (unique jewelry, gifts, children’s clothes, and T-shirts from around the world); and two Toko Baru storefronts (with scented candles and incense, unique jewlry and boho clothing, and handmade gifts.


Like most local businesses, the pandemic has hurt Victor and Jocelyn’s businesses. But it hasn’t stopped them. Recently, they dove into ecommerce and built iluvthatstore.com.


“The website is actually a newer endeavor for us as we've always had bricks and mortar but we just were always so busy building stores we never really delved into it,” says Victor. “And not knowing much about websites we never really took the time to build one. When COVID hit and we were shut down then we thought ‘This is the perfect time for us to build a website, you know, trying to make something positive out of a negative.’”


For years, he says, whenever he or Jocelyn told people what they did, they’d hear “I love that store!” And so, years later, it became domain name.


Other businesses have innovated as well, including those in Over-the-Rhine, which was really hitting its stride as the pandemic hit.


“We have almost 300 brick-and-mortar businesses, and about 100 of those are shops, 80 of them are eateries, and, I think, 30 are bars and restaurants,” says Kelly Adamson, executive director of the Over-the-Rhine Chamber of Commerce. “How do you best cover everyone and how do you support them equitably?”


So we’ve tried to help by putting together a guide that is by no means an exhaustive list of OTR’s businesses, but it’s a start to assist you through last-minute holiday shopping. Hours and availability are constantly changing during the pandemic, so check websites or call businesses for the most up-to-date information. Most of the locations are willing to cater to your needs, speak openly about their safety practices, and have gone out of their way to curate unique, positive 2020 shopping experiences.


For a complete list of OTR businesses, view the chamber’s website. And don’t limit this to the holiday season — our local businesses will need us to help them survive and thrive in 2021.


Adamson and the chamber are already working on ways to make this happen, with a possible digital business district where everyone can shop online moving forward. For now, they are just trying to get through 2020.


It’s all about safety first, then shop small, according to Adamson.


Victor agrees: “I'm very lucky because my customers are the people that don't question the fact that masks aren't political.”


Handmade jewelry at iluvthatstore.com
How to safely shop local, online and in person



Sage Yoga will help you through your holiday binge with in-person, limited-attendance classes that require masks. They also sell merchandise online.


Unique Gifts

Indigo Hippo offers fun, festive items Thurs.–Sat. for appointment shopping (make a reservation on the website). and Tues.–Sat. for curbside pickup of online orders.


Bee Haven has naturally healthy products — perfect for gift giving — made from hives they have both in the city and suburbs. They offer online shopping, ecommerce for retail, and in-person shopping, limited to three people at a time, with limited hours: Tues. and Fri. 11 a.m.–2 p.m., Sat. 9 a.m.–2 p.m., and Sun. 10 a.m.–2 p.m.


Artichoke, located in Findlay market, is where novice to experienced cooks can find pots and pans for all their cookware needs as well as unique, handcrafted items for the kitchen. From the start of the pandemic, they have pivoted to provid the safest possible customer service, including special hours for the elderly and at-risk population. They also are willing to talk you through your needs, text images of products, and have your purchase wrapped and ready to go for pickup.


Great Eats

Cincinnati Food Tours is offering a “Home for the Holidays” gift box, a collection of 10 non-perishable food items from Findlay Market small businesses. It’s a great way to celebrate through a virtual, local tour.


Goose + Elder and Revel OTR partnered to sell wine sleeves and wine made in-house with carryout meals and free local delivery.


Lost + Found pivoted to "booze boxes" that even comes with their own curated Spotify soundtrack. You can also drink outside on the patio, order online, or get delivery.


For most local businesses, quality is key.


“I don't want to compromise my quality,” says Vincent. “We made a conscious decision to, you know, if we buy from a company we don't like, I don't care if they're name brand or not. We won't buy again because I'm sensitive and concerned about the environment.”


Want to thank a local business? Snap a picture of your purchase and tag them on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter.

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Read more articles by Jessica Esemplare.

Jessica Esemplare is the managing editor of Soapbox Cincinnati and a graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. Shortly after completing her degree in magazine journalism, she began covering local and regional topics at The Cincinnati Herald and, later, as an editor at Ohio Magazine. Her writing has also been featured in U.S. News and World Report.