Real Talk. Before we get light, fluffy, and filled with holiday cheer...
Small businesses are going THROUGH it right now. Increased competition from online giants has made it incredibly challenging for local brick-and-mortar businesses to compete on pricing, marketing, and customer reach. There is an increase in commercial rent prices, which limits a small business's ability to establish a physical presence in high-traffic areas - decreasing visibility and foot traffic. And if you've been following along with our stories, you know the supply chain disruptions we've been (and are currently) experiencing. Many small businesses are really struggling to source materials and products due to global supply chain disruptions. There are also a number of digital marketing complexities: online advertising and digital marketing strategies require expertise and financial investment, and the list goes on.
I believe small businesses are the heartbeat of our community. They stimulate local economies, stoke personal connections, maintain local character, give back to the community, minimize the need for long-distance shipping, provide unique offerings, and add diversity to the retail landscape (and we could also argue they have better customer service when their livelihood hangs on customer satisfaction 😉), and they need our support now more than ever.
I have become a big local cheerleader for all things, well... local. And through that, I often get asked where and what I can source locally. While, of course, you can still find me in the aisles of a big box store once in a while, I pride myself on having only ever personally ordered from Amazon less than ten times and, for the most part, being able to source all gifts, and holiday experiences locally, through independent merchants every holiday season. Shopping, drinking, eating to be merry - I do it all at local independent shops on Vancouver Island and have enjoyed sharing these traditions with my partner Hayden and my stepsons.
So, if you are looking for festive experiences this season that will keep money on the island and fuel generations to come, this is the list!
Home of the world-famous Goats on the Roof - The Old Country Market in Coombs, BC, is the perfect stop for gifts, groceries, and great food, but mostly, it's just an unmissable experience if you're on the island! Why are there goats on the roof? Don't know, don't care. They're outrageously adorable 🐐💕. I am guaranteed to be in this area twice a year now. Once in the summer for our summertime family vacay, and once in December for a new holiday tradition - an annual weekend at Tigh-Na-Mara to kick off the holiday season (and recover from our GK Green Weekend!). On this trip, the boys and I visit Coombs, and I use it to tackle two items on my list! One - they have the BEST stocking stuffers. I am big on consumable stocking stuffers; think a delectable cheese and crackers pairing, so I'm not adding knick-knacks and clutter to people's homes. Spoiler alert! anyone getting a stocking from me can look forward to edible treats, and let's be honest... my top picks from The Green Kiss. I use Coombs as others might use Wal Mart, or London Drugs. Their aisles are lined with flags, indicating which country their little treats and packaged goods are from. For my English Grandma? Hard to find British Candy like Curly Wurly bars! For my Dad, who took a trip to Germany in the 80s and still seeks out their black licorice? It's the obscure Haribo treats I pick up.
Secondly - they have the BEST cheese section. Like ever. And their prices can be really fab too! Watch it though - as many things are a great deal as they are close to expiry, but if you are hosting a lot this season, this can be a great place to support local and get a great deal!
Whipping up delicious breakfasts, lunches, and baked treats since 1956, their iconic pink box conjures up so many memories from my childhood. My Great-Grandparents, on both sides of my family, have been visiting The Dutch Bakery since its early days, and no family birthday is complete without their cakes. Over the holidays I visit the diner at least a few times to satisfy that nostalgic itch. It is of utmost importance that their holiday season cocktail sausage rolls grace our presence on Christmas Eve, and that their tea fancies be brought out after Christmas dinner! After a lifetime of research and development on this topic, it is with complete confidence I can declare their vanilla slices and sausage rolls the best on planet Earth. Do yourself a favour and order them for pickup this Christmas.
The island has long been known around North America as a great spot to search for quality antiques, particularly those of British origin, and Shawnigan's Vintage Barn is no exception. This local shop is a newer discovery for me, but it is now a must-visit over the holidays, as their shop completely transforms into a magical, Diagon Alley-esq, Christmas alcove. And the drive up the Malahat, when travelling for leisure, is pretty spectacular. I attended their Holiday Open House at the beginning of their season, and am already plotting my second visit before Christmas to pick up a few more gifts (and personal holiday decor, of course). The vintage vibes in this shop are hard to beat, with its ever-expanding inventory and eclectic collection. I love giving things a second (or third, or fourth) life, and learning a little history.
First stop of this year's GK staff holiday party - the Bard is soaked in history. Once a bank in the 1800s, its most notable employee was Robert Service (author of the poem The Cremation of Sam McGee), whose ghost is said to look out of the top window of an upstairs room. If ghosts aren't your thing, you can't go wrong with live music, handcrafted cocktails & locally sourced eats. If you have never been here at Christmas, it is an ABSOLUTE must! Kids are also allowed earlier in the day and evening, so we do an annual stop with the boys to get a Shirley Temple during our downtown holiday shopping day. You will think you've stumbled onto the set of a Hallmark Christmas movie (dream scenario!).
In 1963, Jim Munro and his first wife, Alice — yes, that Alice Munro — set up shop in Victoria, BC. Their landmark store is a bookworm's paradise. Don't forget to look uuuup - their stunning coffered 24 ft. ceilings serve up major Roman Empire circa 2nd century A.D. vibes. Their kid's book nook makes my heart so happy. I love discovering gifts for others here every holiday season, their gorgeous collection of Christmas cards, and their "fancy-lady" wrapping paper, for that special gift for your special someone!
This hidden gem, down a long country road, treats locals to its award-winning gelato, made fresh daily. Gelato is a tradition in the Mosi family - their recipes and methods come from Torino, Italy. Mosi incorporates seasonal ingredients sourced from local Peninsula farmers. While most people come for the gelato, I make sure to stop in during the holidays to pick up some of their imported foods (think mini Coombs - but with an Italian flavour) for stocking stuffers for my Mum and partner, annnnnd ... for their ham and cheese croissants and americanos! In the summer, we will often make a day of it, stop here for their iced coffees and delectable breakfast sandwiches, and take them down the street to Prospect Lake for a snack on the dock!
Of course, another bookstore makes my list. Bolen's has been Victoria's community bookstore since 1975. The shop underwent a dramatic renovation at the height of e-books and audiobooks, arguing that, in fact, paper books are here to stay. And that makes me very happy 😊. Their magazine section is fab for stockings, and their board game collection makes for giddy kids each year!
Like me, the Farmer's Daughter is passionate about good quality, well-sourced farmhouse and artisan cheese*. And... wine. Need I say more? This charming little wine bar and bistro (and fromagerie) is tucked away in the wind-swept town of Sidney, BC. Last year, my Mum and I met here to have a "quick" glass of wine before a day of Christmas shopping. Cut to - a flight of wine later, we watched the magical Sidney Sparkle parade right from the cozy comfort of the shop windows (and never did make it Christmas shopping 😉). Their cheeses and imported goods make for beautiful gifts and a conversation piece on your holiday charcuterie board. Their imported packaged goods make for... you guessed it, perfect stocking stuffers!
*Pssst, Farmhouse cheese means the milk for the cheese-making came from the same farm where the cheese was made. Artisan cheese is traditionally made by a professional cheesemaker, but the milk is sourced from outside farm(s).
For the person who drinks tea with their pinky up (🙋♀️), Merchie's is the yummiest tea house in town. They're all about procuring only the highest quality teas and 100% Arabica coffees from the world's finest tea gardens and coffee regions. Murchie's has tea time nailed down. Merchie's does festive right! I love indulging in their toasted paninis while making my holiday shopping list from their (in my opinion) best-seat-in-town window benches. There is something about writing out a list for those you love while sitting in a historic building watching the Christmas shoppers hustle and bustle by. It feeds the soul.
My family tells me they truly love that they still get gifts from the store... (12 years ago, when I first opened The Green Kiss, they had no choice as it was all I could afford), but judging by their repeat purchases throughout the year, I still trust they are not just "being nice". Lol!
I'm very proud to be part of the small business hustle, and while we've encountered many of the struggles mentioned above, our community continues to show up for us. This makes us want to work harder than ever to show up for YOU. Choosing the right gift for each person on your list is an art, and in a sea of options, it's easy to get overwhelmed. That's where we come in. Reach out to your knowledgeable Green Kiss Educator for help curating personalized gifts for everyone on your list! We'll make it easy (promise!).
Let's rally to #ShopLocal this holiday season and show our love for small businesses! Whether grabbing a coffee from the corner café or browsing a boutique for gifts, every purchase makes a difference. Together, we can strengthen our communities and celebrate the entrepreneurial spirit! 💪🏼💚
Be Kind, Shop Small & Support Local
Megan Johns, Founder & Owner
Questions for Megan or The Green Kiss Team? Say hi!