ALL of us now know instinctively when someone’s smiling behind their face mask – and shopkeeper Heather Newlands leaves visitors to her quirky gift store in no doubt as to why she is.

“I’m smiling because you shop small & local!,” her facial covering beams as she greets customers to her gift and home accessories shop on the Main Street of Prestwick, South Ayrshire.

The Keekin’ Glass seems appropriately named as you get a glimpse into the hard work that creates the unrivalled customer service that Heather and businesspeople like her across the country strive to achieve, reminding everyone that local businesses really do stand for the very best of Scotland.

It’s eight years this month since she and partner Kenneth Carey launched the business, adding next-door shop Inspirations to their interests in February.

Theirs is an enterprise built on offering often unique items to a loyal local customer base.

“Local support is massive for us. A good 80 per cent of our customers are local. We depend on repeat business,” says Heather, who proudly displays signs declaring ‘Prestwick Born & Bred’ and ‘Prestwick’ in her window.

“We’ve a lot of customers who’ve been with us since we started and who we regard as friends. They’ve been coming to us for so long that we’ve got to know them and have learned about their lives and families. They get to know us too.

“We try to be quite quirky and make a point of stocking things you can’t get anywhere else – bespoke items. That’s important to us.”

Uniqueness – whether in products or service – is something that local businesses in every Scottish community boasts.

And it’s a fact that Heather and her counterparts are highlighting as they urge everyone to choose local as part of the Scotland Loves Local campaign.

With the golden quarter for retail in the countdown to Christmas, it’s a critical call following another year in which local businesses have pulled out all of the stops to support their communities through the continued coronavirus pandemic.

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The length of the nation, shopkeepers, cafe owners, restaurateurs and many others are urging us all not to not just think local, but spend local too – championing all that’s special about their community.

“There’s a nice atmosphere in Prestwick,” adds Heather, a former web developer who used her skills to take her business online during the first lockdown, going on to offer delivery and collection services. “It’s such a friendly town.

“Christmas is going to be the biggie for us. Hopefully we’ll get a proper run at it this year. We know that local people do try to shop locally at Christmas.”

With people hoping for at least a little more of a party season than last year, the team at clothing boutique Emporium – on the opposite side of Prestwick Main Street – are also looking towards a more fruitful festive countdown than in 2020.

Director Lynn Arnott says of the need for local support now and year-round: “It’s exceedingly important – paramount, in fact. We couldn’t survive without it.

“We’ve built a strong community feel in Prestwick, though, between the business owners and the customers.”

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Lynn, who has run Emporium since 2008 and employs nine staff, also highlights the rapport that local businesses build with their followers – perhaps demonstrated best when a man working abroad called asking them to pick a summer wardrobe as a present to his wife.

“We get to know our customers pretty well,” she continues. “We go above and beyond to help and build a relationship with them. They’re our Emporium family.”

Supporting local businesses has an important knock-on effect throughout the wider community, as Lorraine Grant knows all too well.

Fruit and veg wholesalers and delicatessen Grants has been in her husband’s family since 1947. It has a store on Prestwick Main Street as well as supplying hotels, restaurants, care homes and other shops.

Lorraine, who runs the retail arm of the businesses, says: “If people spend in here they’re also helping other businesses because we try to source locally whenever possible, especially on the deli side of things.”

It’s a fact backed up by Peter Telfer, managing director of Urquhart Opticians, which has a branch in the town as well as others in Kilmarnock, Troon, Ayr and Kilwinning.

He says: “When supporting a locally-owned business it keeps more money within the local economy, as they tend to purchase from other local businesses.

“It means our main streets are well populated and, most of all, so many of our locally-owned businesses have fantastic produce that is unique – and often not as expensive as many would think.”

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Scotland Loves Local – spearheaded by Scotland’s Towns Partnership (STP) and supported by the Scottish Government – is the campaign urging people across the country to choose local to rebuild the nation’s post-Covid economy from its grassroots.

It includes the rollout of regional Scotland Loves Local Gift Cards – available to buy now in many areas – giving customers another way in which to support businesses close to home.

STP chief officer Phil Prentice says: “Local businesses are at the heart of our communities. They really are the best of Scotland. Yet they need our support, not only to survive now, but thrive in the future.

“To do that, we need people to do things differently – to choose local and spend local. It’s something we’ll all benefit from. Their future is in your hands.”

 

For more details about the Scotland Loves Local campaign – and how to buy a Scotland Loves Local Gift Card – go to www.lovelocal.scot

 You can also follow #ScotlandLovesLocal on social media.