By Jim Williams

HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. (CBS) — The COVID-19 pandemic has been a difficult time for mom and pop shops, which have been hit hard by the pandemic and faced stiff competition from large online sites. However, some suburban stores have found a creative way to compete just in time for the holidays.

Thirty stores in Highland Park are coming together on one website looking for a fighting chance in a tough marketplace.

For Pam Hillman and her daughter Alyson, it was a modest beginning 13 years ago.

“We started with a toy store, and we’ve added one every couple of years,” Pam said.

Today the two own six shops on Central Avenue in Highland Park, selling home good to books to clothes.

“I come to work happy every day,” Pam said. “I love working with my daughter. I love being a part of the community, lived here over 30 years, and we have a wonderful support base in Highland Park.”

Those loyal customers couldn’t set foot in the stores for three months because of the pandemic. And like all retailers she now has to limit the number of those allowed inside.

“It has been hard, and it’s more than just keeping the stores afloat,” she said. “We want to keep our staff working. We want to keep them safe.”

Shoppers flock to Amazon for convenience and safety, but Pam and other Highland Park retailers are taking on Goliath.

“You just have to think on your feet and try to get ahead of it as best you can,” she said.

They’ve created the Downtown Highland Park Online Marketplace. Instead of shoppers going from store website to store website, they can find 30 Highland Park retailers all under one online roof.

Ilyse Strongin, Downtown Highland Park Marketplace 05:48

“This is a great opportunity for the merchant, but as a consumer, you can go online to the downtown Highland Park Marketplace and you can make multiple purchases from multiple vendors supporting our downtown district with one transaction,” said Ilyse Strongin.

“I think it also brings us all together as retailers to work harder together,” said Pam.

The people in Highland Park would like to see such an online presence linking small businesses in communities across the country.

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