ITHACA, N.Y.—Almost 50 years ago, Jan Norman moved from New York City to Ithaca. While some people may say Norman is not a native Ithacan, she said feels like she has grown to be one.
Norman has been a businesswoman in Ithaca for 45 years and currently owns and runs the store Ithacamade located in the Dewitt Mall. She said when she started her first store in 1977 there were many small businesses in the United States, however in the years since, larger corporate stores have started to change the landscape.
“It was becoming more and more difficult to have a locally owned business and compete,” she said. “As a business owner I was looking for something that could be done for local businesses to compete.”
Norman said she heard about Local First — an organization that helps support local businesses — and with the help of a friend decided to start an Ithaca chapter. Norman said she recognized that certain businesses, like coffee shops and bookstores, were more at risk than others and she wanted to do something to help them out. She said she saw a town in Washington state create a coupon book for local businesses and another town create a guide to local businesses.
“I thought ‘wouldn’t it be cool to actually combine that and do something that told the story of what made our businesses unique and also had coupons to encourage people to actually get out and support some of those businesses?’’ she said.
And so, “The Guide to Being Local” was created, with this year’s issue being the 11th annual guide. The book is not only filled with coupons for many of Ithaca’s local businesses, but it also includes information about why shopping local is important as well as excerpts about some of the local businesses.
Norman said that before the coupon book was created, Local First held holiday campaigns which involved giving people a card that could be stamped at different local businesses and once the card was filled, people could use it to win prizes. Additionally, Norman said she worked to help start the New York Sustainable Business Council, which works with business leaders, allied organizations and regional business networks to advance a sustainable economic future throughout New York.
“The first year we did [“The Guide to Being Local”] it was a slim little book and with each year it has gotten bigger,” Norman said.
She said that supporting local businesses also helps support the community the business is in. Norman said that many of these businesses will use local accountants, marketers, graphic designers and more which helps keep money within the community and one local business helps another.
Norman said the COVID-19 pandemic hurt local businesses in many ways, but many adapted by switching to curbside pickups and online shopping options.
“Everybody has tried to be flexible and pivot their businesses to be able to support the community and support their customers,” she said.
Local businesses in Ithaca lost customers as students at Ithaca College and Cornell University were not on campus because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In response to the pandemic, the U.S. Small Business Administration approved loans to protect 13,000 jobs in Tompkins County in July 2020. CNBC reported that 23% of small and medium-sized businesses closed and in states like New York, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania at least 30% of these businesses closed.
Despite the strain the pandemic put on local businesses, Norman said “The Guide to Being Local” was still being produced. She said the guide is usually put out around holiday time but came out later this year than expected.
“We want to make sure everyone knows it’s out and that it’s full of the great value that people expect to see from it,” she said. “We’re hoping that everybody will get out there and purchase their guide and support the local community.”
“The Guide to Being Local” can be bought at GreenStar Co-Op, Buffalo St. Books, Home Green Home, The Cat’s Pajamas, Sunny Days, the Cornell Campus Store, Fontana’s Shoes, Odyssey Books, Alphabet Soup, Rasa Spa, Ithacamade and Ithaca Bakery.