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 Val Robbins, the founder of Val’s Pet Supplies stores in Clawson  and Troy, gears up for another holiday season.

Val Robbins, the founder of Val’s Pet Supplies stores in Clawson and Troy, gears up for another holiday season.

Photo by Deb Jacques

Small retailers are a big deal to Oakland shoppers

By: Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published November 25, 2019

 Bordine’s nursery offers workshops on weekends where guests can learn decorating tips and tricks from crafting professionals.

Bordine’s nursery offers workshops on weekends where guests can learn decorating tips and tricks from crafting professionals.

Photo provided by Sarah Prouix, of Bordine’s


OAKLAND COUNTY — Lisa Gentile lives in the heart of downtown Birmingham. Without a doubt, she said, one of her favorite things about the neighborhood is that she can step out her door and walk to her favorite local haunts.

“It’s just awesome, because I can be anywhere in five minutes. Not just for nails or shopping, but for food, shopping, alcohol — really anything I want,” she said.

But the reason she loves those merchants downtown is that many of them are independent retailers, and she knows that what she’s getting is one of a kind.

Or at least as close as you can get to one of a kind.

“My friends and I joke that we’re all shopping at the same places, so we’re all going to have the same clothes,” Gentile added with a laugh. “But it’s great, because I like to go out a lot, and with the smaller shops, they have things that are a little more unique, especially as far as gifts, but they do get a lot of different things from national brands. I can find something cute that’s not everywhere else.”

But there’s so much more to shopping local than just those rare finds. Supporting small, independent retailers ensures that a bigger chunk of your shopping dollars stays in your community, where it can do the most good for you and your neighbors.

Being a relaxed, personable stop for nearby residents is one of Heather Glenday’s favorite things about Bordine’s nursery stores. She’s the general manager of the Rochester Hills location, and she said that, particularly during the holidays, the vibe is certainly more about creating than spending.

“We do seminars on weekends, and the schedule is always on the website. On Friday, Nov. 29, we’re doing a designer mantel seminar, where everyone can learn how to create a designer mantel piece at home. Then on Saturday, Nov. 30, we’re doing a seminar about decorating your doorway with fresh greens or artificial garlands, and then Sunday (Dec. 1) is on how to make a designer wreath,” Glenday explained.

Bordine’s celebrated its 80th anniversary this year, and long before the movement of Small Business Saturday gained popularity, Glenday said, the nursery chain was looking to keep its inventory locally sourced.

“Our Bordine-grown poinsettias are great. That’s definitely one of the things that makes us special,” she said. “You can buy a poinsettia anywhere, but ours are grown at our Grand Blanc facility.”

Promoting those “shop local” efforts in tandem with national campaigns like the original Small Business Saturday promotion from American Express, the Oakland County Economic Development and Community Affairs Division, or Advantage Oakland, has its own incentives to encourage shoppers to hit independent businesses this holiday season.

Those who spend at Oakland County businesses on Nov. 30 can submit a copy of their receipt to Advantage Oakland for a chance to win up to $5,000. While submissions will be accepted in person or online at, the easiest way to enter a receipt for a chance to win some cash is via smartphone, by texting a photo of your receipt with SHOPTEXTWIN to 41411.

“Small businesses help Oakland County’s economy thrive by providing jobs and being connected to their neighborhoods,” Oakland County Executive David Coulter said in a prepared statement. “Participating in Small Business Saturday is one of the ways Oakland County supports our entrepreneurs who invest back into their communities.”

Not to mention, participating in Small Business Saturday is a great way for patrons to show shop owners that the extra mile they go to help customers — from stocking distinctive merchandise to providing exceptional service — is just a better way to do business.

“Our customers like that when they come here they get more of that one-on-one service,” said Jack Robbins, the manager of Val’s Pet Supplies stores in Clawson and Troy. “I get it all the time from people: ‘It’s nice to come in and somebody asking you what you need, as opposed to just letting me wander the aisles.’”

Robbins’ family founded the store 35 years ago, and pet parents have been coming to him for all those years because his staff understands the nutritional needs of cats, dogs, birds — you name it.

They even know what health needs a Michigan pet might have, specifically.

“Our wild birdseed, it’s all custom blended for us in Michigan, for Michigan birds,” Robbins said. “A lot of big box stores carry national brands (of seed) that are available coast to coast. But what birds need in California and Florida aren’t necessarily good for our birds here.”

There might be some extra surprises for customers on Small Business Saturday, Robbins added, but his biggest point of pride is knowing that his staff will be there for customers the next day. And the day after that.

“We’re not trying to be the biggest, just the strongest for our surrounding communities,” he said. “People like to know that we are family owned and operated for years and years, and I feel like they know they’re getting a better shake with the independent stores.”