Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, businesses big and small have had to radically shift how they serve customers.

So, one Brookfield family took it upon themselves to show residents just what local businesses had to offer by creating a website promoting their products and services during the holiday season.

No matter the size, business owners have had to adhere to social distancing guidelines, employ strict cleaning protocols, limit the number of customers indoors and sometimes just how many essential items they can buy, maintain inventory to stock empty shelves and address the additional demands of more phone and online business.

And while big-box retailers have seemingly been able to adjust to the new demands of the shopping world due to more manpower and corporate funds, small businesses and mom-and-pop retailers have not been as fortunate.

This holiday season, while some big name stores are projecting record-breaking sales, smaller retailers are expected to bear the brunt of the impact of the pandemic — struggling to make ends meet, laying off already thin employee rosters and having to close their doors for good.

For Brookfield resident Allegra Fowler, standing by during the holidays and watching as dozens of local businesses suffer was not an option. She knew something had to be done.

After all, small business energy is in her blood.

Fowler, whose father and brother run family business A-Available Moving Company in Berwyn, was tired of seeing businesses in Brookfield struggle due to the pandemic and was worried about how they would fare during the holidays.

“I know that for my family and other families like mine, the small business stuff is impossibly tough in 2020,” said Fowler, who works by day for Purdue University Global.

One day this fall, after Fowler dropped off her youngest daughter at daycare in Brookfield and walked through the Grand Boulevard business district, an idea popped into her head.

“People are rightfully anxious about going into a store to make purchases, but then they don’t know all the good stuff that we have in Brookfield,” she said.

Thinking about how she and her family had begun getting inundated with holiday shopping gift guides from big-box retailers, Fowler asked herself, “Why not do the same for local shoppers?”

“People are so used to shopping from their phones, and local community shops don’t have that type of visibility,” she said. “While I wouldn’t disparage anyone for ordering through Target and Amazon for convenience, when those products are available in a way that are going to put food on your neighbor’s table, I think that’s something that needs to be put into the calculation, particularly in 2020 when the financial strains are disproportionately impacting small businesses.”

So, Fowler and her husband, Jake, took matters into their own hands, building an entire Brookfield Holiday Gift Guide website from scratch.

The Fowlers, who had no prior experience building a website or the ins and outs of e-commerce, began researching every local business in Brookfield, from restaurants and retailers to spas and beauty salons by looking through the Riverside-Brookfield Landmark’s community guide and studying Google Maps. From there, they created a list of all retailers in Brookfield and configured a simple Google website.

Categorizing Brookfield business profiles into gift guides for groups for men, women, children, gift cards, and food and drink, the Fowlers developed an online page featuring unique gift ideas for users to identify the best items from Brookfield businesses for everyone on their holiday shopping list.

On the website, users can peruse a variety of products, including clothing, jewelry, flower delivery options, home tools, gourmet snacks, gift cards and more, featuring the variety of Brookfield’s unique small business offerings. 

The website includes photos of the various products alongside the name and contact information for each business, and a link which takes the user directly to the business’ website, Facebook page or online ordering portal.

While the Fowlers have only personally been in touch with about a dozen of Brookfield’s local businesses, their website includes a comprehensive listing of all businesses in Brookfield which have provided publicly accessible business information on the internet, including their name, phone number and website. For the Fowlers, the website is giving each business a fair shot at exposure.

“We don’t have a horse in this race — this is not about us,” Allegra Fowler said. “We’re trying to be really equitable, so that’s been a little bit challenging because some of the businesses have so much information that’s compatible with this type of guide, and then you’ve got some places that are boutique, small-town shops that have websites that are just like a welcome page. 

“We’ve tried to emphasize all businesses because [the guide] is not meant to differentiate those that have invested in online ordering. It’s meant to give everyone a fair shot.”

For the most part, featured products on the website have been picked based on the Fowlers’ own editorial decisions about what goods looked fun and one-of-a-kind for each niche shopping list. However, some businesses have reached out for direction on what items they wished to see featured on the online guide.

Some of the photos on the gift guide have been sent to the Fowlers directly from the retailers, while others have been shot by the Fowlers and their two daughters, 6-year-old Ella and 4-year-old Evelyn.

The Fowlers are not receiving any revenue from the online guide. To them, what’s important is helping Brookfield’s homegrown businesses find new audiences and a new way to thrive during these challenging times.

“Our small businesses are the backbone of the community,” Allegra said. “They are owned, operated and staffed by our friends and neighbors, and so investing in them is investing in those friends and neighbors.”

To check out the Fowlers’ Brookfield Holiday Gift Guide, click here.