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Small local businesses offer big deals, personal service

Gerry Girdaukas looks over chocolate ornament gift Rocky MountaChocolate Factory Libertyville. He said he was going overseas for visit wanted

Gerry Girdaukas looks over a chocolate ornament gift at Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory in Libertyville. He said he was going overseas for a visit and wanted to bring “some American chocolates” for friends. | Tina Johansson/for Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 1, 2014 6:12AM

With big-box stores offering doorbusters and opening at crazy hours on Thanksgiving, small businesses, especially mom-and-pop shops, seem to lose their relevance.

Not so!

Small businesses command die-hard, loyal customers.

“You can’t find unique, specialty things at big boxes. They all look the same,” said Debbie Isaacs early Friday while browsing at the Zion Antique Mall in downtown Zion.

“I love this store and I come here frequently. I want to support stores like this so that they can stay in business and not become vacant storefronts,” she added.

The store is chock-full of antique furniture, lamps, china, clocks, framed pictures and other novelties.

“If you’re shopping for furniture, this is a bargain place,” said Sharon Bourdeau, who has owned the store with her husband Don for more than 25 years.

“Some of them are a 100 years old. If you take care of them, they’ll last for another 100 years,” she said, short of dismissing that some furniture found at big boxes as “junky” and unworthy.

Downtown Libertyville smells inviting when you walk into the newly-opened Savory Spice Shop owned by Sandy Cole, former Republican state representative from 62th District and Lake County commissioner from the 11th District. The store carries 400 different kinds of spices.

“After 16 years in politics, I’m glad to try something else,” said Cole, pointing out affirmatively, “Small business is the lifeblood of the American economy.” Eighty percent of America’s business is small business, she pointed out, citing statistics.

Shoppers, she cautioned, often believe that they can get a bargain at big chain stores and that small stores like hers are “boutiques and expensive.” Not so, she said, showing a 1.2-ounce of turmeric which costs only $2.76 at her store but $6.99 at a big chain store.

Shopping at the store were Sharon Olsen of Antioch and her husband Mike. They bought maple sugar and honey powder for use at breakfast.

“It’s nice to know people who run the place and you get personal service you don’t get at big boxes,” said Sharon who works as quality systems analyst for Hollister Inc.

Personal service, in fact, is what shoppers often find woefully lacking at box boxes. At Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory in downtown Libertyville, co-owner Pam Lockowitz, said the store stresses customer service because, for one reason, “we get a lot of special orders from our customers — many of them business owners.”

Small business, she said, is important to the community because “it adds value to the community and the tax dollar goes back to the community.”

Gerry Girdaukis was at the store to buy two boxes of chocolate for his friend in Bath, England.

“I’m flying to London this afternoon. I came here to shop because this is the best hand-made chocolate in America,” said Girdaukis, a psychologist.

“And I want to support a family business,” he added.

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