Keep It Local Blog
Stories, interviews, and local insights that we hope will inspire you to support the local shops, restaurants, and services that make Oklahoma unique.
Getting to know clients is one of the best parts of my job. Discovering their careers, family structures, religious leanings, and political ideals is a true delight in my day. Listening to fellow Oklahomans has made me realize how vibrant our state has been and is becoming.
When catching up with clients, there are two conversations that come to mind. The first topic, a sort of "Whats new in Oklahoma City,” consists of new restaurants, bars, and retail. A blend of rumor, fact, and desire to be in the know fuels this conversation.
The second, is often about traveling to a city that is way “cooler" than our own.
Clients will rave about a dining experience as if they've never had pork chops before, or a shopping experience like it was visiting Mecca, and froth over a hotel as if it changed the way they perceive reality.
When thinking about these “cooler” cities there is a very distinct picture that they paint. Austin has a cultured weirdness. Seattle claims coffee, grunge and NPR. Denver is bountiful with breweries, subarus and edibles. More recently you hear tale of smaller southern markets being hailed as the new king of cool; Charleston or Nashville comes to mind.
So whats their deal? Why do these cities have a perception of being so much cooler?
When comparing, we [Oklahoma City] have great local restaurants, a thriving coffee scene, super trendy retail, breweries, and salons/barbershops. The list is long. Just visit the Keep It Local business members page and you'll be quickly overwhelmed.
So this begs the questions, Who are we? (Que cheesy BBC documentary about the fabric of human existence, and say “who are we” in a British accent). At a glance you can write us off as any other midwestern city. Our identity could be perceived as vague. But what makes us unique is that we are a deeply relational city. A “Big Friendly” as we’ve been coined. We are more likely to stop and talk when It is inconvenient. When we ask "hows it going?" we mean it. We champion our neighbors, we have a relational culture of selflessness that is hard to find.
I’m ok with not living in a perceived “cooler" market, in fact, they can keep their cool. Oklahoma City is great, not because we have fantastic local businesses, but because we want to be good neighbors. To me, that is a trade off worth having.
Jake Phelps is the owner of Capital City Barbershop and lives in NW Oklahoma City. He is married and has 2 little girls. In his free time, he loves all things BBQ and guitar pedals. Follow Jake on Instagram at @jakelahoma & @capital_city_ok
When I first moved to Oklahoma City, it was the kindness of the people that captured my heart. I have never met such genuinely kind people. Like strangers in front of you in line at Elemental who buy your coffee, just to be nice! I mean, who does that!?! In college, I got to spend some time living in New York and outside of London and I will tell ya, that would have never EVER happened there. So with that said, something that always caught me super off guard was when customers at my store would complain to me about how much something cost. Or tell me that they loved this candle but they were going to go buy it online. Like, it is one thing to think about doing that but why would you tell me? So rude! You wouldn’t even know about that candle if I wasn’t carrying it in my shop. And I doubt this ever crossed anyones mind, but it was like they were telling me, “I love your store but you are not worth it.” It took a lot of time to find well made handmade products that were unique to our city. And guess what, I can’t support myself, or let alone pay to keep the lights on, if you don’t buy something. That's kinda' how it works. Ok, end rant. Sorry I got so riled up there.
With that said, I would love to help shed a little light on why local SOMETIMES costs more. First off, did you know that Amazon’s whole business model was created where they don’t have to make a profit!?! How can any small business compete with that? A small shop owner doesn’t have the flexibility to throw money away. Every dollar lost is one that dramatically affects them. In the last year Collected Thread was open, there were many months where I went without paying myself because I only had enough to pay my employees. That felt pretty dramatic to me. Small businesses do not have the flexibility that a big box shop has.
Here is another way to think about it. If a shop has a line of t-shirts created in house, they have to pay the artist, screen printer and t-shirt wholesaler before they can put it out in the shop. What does that look like dollar wise? Normally, I was paying anywhere from $6-$9 for a blank tee. The screen printers I used were dear friends so I normally paid $2-$5 for each shirt to be printed. And then I wanted to pay the artist well for their design so that was anywhere from $2-$4 a shirt. So at the low end of everything I just listed, a shirt cost me $13. The rule of retail is you have to at least double your cost to make a profit. So I would have to sell the shirt for at least $26. A big company can order a much larger amount of shirts, which will bring their cost down considerably. A small business just cannot compete with that. $5 tees like the ones at Target would never have been an option, unless they were our leftover “Be Like KD” tees. Tear.
Anyways, I just wanted to shed a little light on the "why." I get being on a budget. I am about to have three kids! I am right there with you. But sometimes, I think spending a little more at a local shop is worth it because I generally can trust I am getting a stronger, unique product than what I would get at a big box shop and, more importantly, I am supporting a shop and its owner, which adds so much to our local community. You can go to a Barnes and Noble almost anywhere, but only OKC has Commonplace Books and Full Circle Bookstore. I think they are worth spending a little bit more!
Let me introduce you to our pack: Hilde, Gracie and Harper (it was a family merger). Three dogs makes for a significant portion of our budget, so it’s an opportunity to really make a local shopping impact.
(Photo: Hilde, Gracie and Harper with pupcones from Sasquatch Shaved Ice)
If I’m being honest, for a good chunk of my pet parenthood, I took the easy route and bought it all at Petsmart. However, as our dogs have aged combined with my efforts to shop local, we made the switch last year.
One challenge was the lack of local pet stores near our home. I heard about Swaim Serum in Stockyards City. It’s a vet, vet supply and retail store, so it was nice that our dog toothpaste was available to purchase there along with a decent brand dog food. One Saturday when I arrived, a huge line of people were there for their low cost vaccine clinic. I really liked to see their outreach to the community by providing this care for people and pets in need. However, they weren’t consistently carrying the dog food brand I was using so I needed another option. Lately, I had been taking Hilde to jog a lake Hefner, so in order to make the trip efficient, I started jotting over to A1 Pet Emporium for dog food. This has also been nice as a motivation to go jog, because if we need dog food I might as well work a jog with the trip. A1 has a large selection of foods and any pet supply you need. They’ve given me great recommendations on foods as our dogs have all moved into senior status.
I’ve always used a local vet, and we go to Warr Acres Animal Clinic where my husband’s family has gone for several years. We really love Dr. Katie Kughn, she is wonderful with our dogs and so empathetic. Harper has arthritis and has recently gone on medication, so I’ve elected to purchase from our vet instead of 1800PetMeds, so it’s another opportunity to keep it localer.
We can’t afford to regularly groom three dogs and we’re pretty active outdoors so it wouldn’t last long anyhow, but Harper needed a good grooming and I tried out the Mutt Hutt near our home. She did a really great job and was sensitive to his old hips. We hate cutting their nails, so I also recently took Harper to Bo’s Dog Grooming on Penn and got a walk in $7 trim. Bo did a great job and I’ll definitely be back with the other 2.
(Photo: Harper after a fresh grooming at the Mutt Hutt Pet Salon)
So all in all, my lessons learned here are to just figure out ways to make pet supply runs efficient. Planning my week and knowing when I will need dog food or medication allows me to fit in other plans to make it efficient. In May, 94% of our pet budget was spent locally. The non-local 6% was only after an emergency visit to Petco on our way home from camping (tick shampoo, beware ticks are very bad this year). I feel good about our efforts in this category and I think our dogs do too! What are some of your favorite local pet stores and vets?
What does shopping more local mean for a millenial(ish) couple who are striving to have a more minimal lifestyle when it comes to material things?
While our dogs are part of our family, we don’t really spoil them with much in the way of things. Our dogs really enhance our experiences by taking them camping, hiking, jogging and on walks through our neighborhood.
What is the feasibility of a commitment to shop local for those that do not have much flexibility or resources? For the single mom, the family living paycheck to paycheck, the person without access to reliable transportation?
I think most of the local pet shops have a basic brand of pet food, but that probably doesn’t compare to a value brand from a big box store. Although I know these brands aren’t the best for pets, it would be nice to see local shops offer more value options as a way to provide access for customers who may not be able to afford better brands at the moment. It can be a sticker shock to go from value brand to quality brand, but more exposure and education about the products could ease people into purchasing better quality foods over time.
Because I co-own and run a vintage shop, I am asked every day where I find the pieces for the shop and for my home. My business partner and I used to be offended and shy with our response, protecting our trade secrets and not talking about our "competitors."
But let's be honest, we LOVE vintage shopping and we LOVE Tulsa. We came to an important conclusion–survival of our type of small business relies on all of the many ways a person can vintage shop. People who enjoy vintage shopping come in a variety of personality types–some of us prefer to push our sleeves up and get dirty, others like estate sales where they can traipse through homes, many prefer a neatly arranged antique store, and some of us (ME!) adore all these vintage hunting methods.
The more we celebrate one another and recommend other shops, the more easily our customers will find what they are looking for. Vintage shops change every day, almost hourly, with what they have in stock, so it's really nice for customers to have help finding resources for their specific needs. We want to support the vintage shopping lifestyle, because it's so fun and rewarding. Plus a home decorated with vintage pieces is a home filled with meaning and great stories. We think this ultimately makes for better people, but that's a longer story.
That's my take on vintage shopping, and here is my business partner (Ashley Palmer) and my blog series on our personal favorite places to shop vintage in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Ashley Daly co-owns Retro Den, a home store in Tulsa, Oklahoma, that buys, sells, and trades vintage home goods and furniture. Also find locally crafted homewares, as well as air-plants and regionally grown succulents. Everything you need to make your home a place that gives you energy and joy. Follow them on Instagram at @retrodentulsa.
There’s just something about driving through small towns in Oklahoma that gives you a whole new appreciation for this state. We live in a place where we can experience an exploding downtown and still be able to get that small-town America feel less than an hour away.
On my last Keep It Local Instagram takeover, I was able to experience three of these small Oklahoma towns in a totally new-to-me way. I took a drive North and stopped by Guthrie, Stillwater, and Enid to see why these small towns make us anything but a flyover state.
There’s a charm that comes from being in a town with fewer than 12,000 residents (Guthrie comes in at 11,492). The small size is great for city or suburb-dwellers like myself. Guthrie is the perfect escape for when you don’t want to drive too far, but need a break from the hurry of OKC or Edmond. A place that I find myself often is Hoboken Coffee Roasters. It’s a relaxed space ideal for getting lost in a book or just enjoying the sounds of Thelonious Monk on their record player. Go on a roasting day and it’s the perfect place to engage all of your senses.
Stillwater is a town that holds fond memories for a lot of people, myself included. Stillwater has a magic that can only be found in a college town, but it’s far more than Eskimo Joes and Cowboy’s games. There are plenty of local shops that support locally made products, so the local love comes full circle. 1907 Meat Co. is one of those places. I’ll be honest, I’m not the biggest meat eater, but I’d 100% shop or eat at 1907. I think it’s important (and also cool, in a nerdy way) to know where your food is coming from and who’s making it. It’s fresher, better for you, and since local food reduces the need for transportation, eating locally is good for the environment, too! Wins all around. Pistols firing!
Enid was the only small town on this takeover I’d never been to before. Beyond the slightly longer drive (which is good for deep thinking and also singing out loud to Justin Timberlake), this small town has its own tiny treasures, a lot of which can be found at The Felt Bird. I’m always so excited to see shops like this, because to me, they’re a representation of how a town is growing. I wanted to leave that store with so many things (from dreamy dresses to dog bandanas). It reminded me why it’s important to shop small. The people behind the stores are worth supporting.
While I only visited three small towns, Oklahoma has plenty more. They’re perfect for a weekend trip, even if that just means exploring the shelves of an antique store to see what makes you laugh or think. Take the drive. Go to a small town. See what really makes Oklahoma unique.