ShopSmol looks to connect online shoppers with small businesses

Coleby Kauffman, a Valley entrepreneur, stands outside one of his businesses, Tastecraft Cafe in Milton, holding ShopSmol branded shipping boxes. ShopSmol is an online marketplace Kauffman launched in November allowing local merchants to sell their goods through the internet.

LEWISBURG — A Valley entrepreneur has launched an online marketplace, ShopSmol, where local small businesses and nonprofits can offer their products and services to a global customer base.

Eleven businesses and organizations registered so far Creator Coleby Kauffman expects membership to grow rapidly next year as merchants shift their focus away from the holiday season.

Kauffman brainstormed ShopSmol last spring when government mitigation measures against COVID-19 limited or closed businesses altogether. He believed the virus could surge in the 4th quarter of 2020, which is playing out, and spent the rest of the year refining his idea and developing the website.

ShopSmol launched in November, about a month before Pennsylvania’s latest temporary mitigation measures limited indoor retail capacity to 50 percent.

“Our web traffic has been way beyond what I expected. The amount of people coming back and making purchases has been phenomenal,” Kauffman said, explaining he’ll use such data to pitch membership to more businesses and nonprofits. “I think e-commerce will be very vital for the survival of small businesses and nonprofits. It won’t replace brick-and-mortar operations, but having seamless integration of online sales is going to be really crucial.”

Open Door Gallery, Mondragon Books, The Scratching Post Cat Cafe, The Campus Theatre, Escentially Annie, Faustina’s, Lewisburg Downtown Partnership, Buffalo Valley Recreation Authority all are registered members offering products and services. They’re joined by Kauffman’s own businesses, Tastecraft Cafe, Black Dog Jewelers and Jewel Ember Candles.

Member businesses have their own pages they can customize with products, services, sales and general information like their brick-and-mortar store’s address and operating hours. Customers can navigate ShopSmol by town and product and can easily page through stores, auctions and gift card sales. It’s expansive and user-friendly. Customers can register a profile and follow specific shops, and can coordinate shipping or in-store pickup of purchases.

Kauffman isn’t collecting a commission on sales at least through the end of 2020 and said once fees are initiated, they’ll be kept low. There’s no fee for businesses to register or sell gift certificates, except for standard credit card transactions.

“I wanted to keep the cost as low as possible because small businesses need all the help they can get now,” Kauffman said.

The auction element is employed by nonprofits seeking to raise funds. The Scratching Post recently auctioned a bevy of items including gift baskets.

The Campus Theater is selling 80 limited edition giclee prints of the theater and its iconic marquee. It’s also auctioning a one-of-a-kind watercolor painting of the scene by artist Sandy O’Connor. The painting is named “It’s a Wonderful Life,” a nod to the holiday movie classic. The auction ends at midnight Jan. 17. It corresponds with the theater’s 80th anniversary.

Scotta Magnelli, executive director, Campus Theatre, said she’s impressed by ShopSmol. She said it’s easy to use and plans to pitch it to other merchants in Lewisburg’s downtown.

“I think it’s invaluable, especially given the decrease in foot traffic downtown because of COVID. It’s a way for downtown merchants to tiptoe into online sales, especially the folks who don’t have a web presence,” Magnelli said.

Lewisburg businesses are the primary users of ShopSmol in its infancy. It’s a natural connection as Kauffman has strong business ties in the borough and across the Susquehanna River in Milton. His immediate plan is to recruit regional businesses to join the online marketplace. Should it find success, Kauffman said ShopSmol is something he’d like to expand into other communities across the country to help boost small businesses.

“The potential is limitless. I could definitely see ShopSmol being a thing wherein a decade people check it before they travel to a new town to see what’s there,” Kauffman said. “Part of the problem small businesses are facing even before the pandemic is competing with large online companies. Having a way for people to see what’s out there in the realm of small business in an easy-to-use platform will be very far-reaching and has a lot of potential.”

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