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The local deal: Small businesses look for their share of holiday shoppers

coverThere are a few time-honored traditions on Thanksgiving. Like turkey and stuffing, or football and napping. 

Or, increasingly more over the years, shopping. With retailers rabidly encouraging shoppers to get an early jump on the Christmas season gift-buying frenzy, the day after Thanksgiving has emerged as America’s celebration of shopping.

The day even has a rather ominous sounding name: Black Friday. 

“That’s one of the biggest shopping events of the year,” said Paige Dowling, town manager of Sylva.

But Black Friday is all about sales, and mostly about larger chain stores. People camp out at Wal-Marts and Best Buys. They get into fistfights over Tickle Me Elmo dolls and iPads. It’s become a spectacle as much as it is a chance to snag a good deal. 

The past few years, another officially sanctioned — or commercially sanctioned, anyways — day of shopping has followed Black Friday. The Saturday shopping event, dubbed Small Business Saturday, is a much calmer affair.

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“The idea is that you promote shopping locally the day after Black Friday,” explained Dowling. “Small Business Saturday is just like Black Friday or Cyber Monday.”

Small business owners around the Western North Carolina region are hopeful the Small Business Saturday event will lead people to invest more of their purchasing power with small businesses.

“I think it’s good because it kind of reminds people to shop our small businesses rather than the big box stores,” said Tricia Buckner, owner of Genevieve’s Gifts in Franklin. “No hustle, bustle, shoving each other.”

 

Hoping for $ome love

Julie Spiro, executive director of the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce, is excited about the free schwag she’s ordered off the internet. 

“It took me like three minutes to do it and it was all free,” she said, describing the bounty.

Spiro is excited about Small Business Saturday promotional items. She’s been encouraging merchants throughout the county to order some and officially participate in the event. 

“They’re awesome,” Spiro said, listing off the freebies. “You get a really nice cloth tote bag that says ‘Shop Small,’ you get a welcome mat, there’s a window display.”

Small Business Saturday was first observed in 2010. It’s a trademarked event, launched by American Express. The day is meant to encourage people to think outside the big box stores and shop at small, local businesses — preferably, of course, using an American Express card. 

“It’s turned out to be a good day for us in the past,” said Walter Cook, owner of Smoky Mountain Dog Bakery in Waynesville. “It’s nothing Earth-shattering, but in the last couple of years it has grown into something a little more substantial.”

“This is the first year that we’ve had the bags,” said Betty Gates, owner of B&B Gifts in Sylva.

In addition to ordering free Small Business Saturday tote bags to give away, Gates is also enticing shoppers with a few give-aways of her own during the event. From behind her store counter, the shop owner pulls out a dip bowl and platter, along with a cheese spreader — doorprizes she will surprise some shoppers with during their post-Thanksgiving visit.

“We’ll probably have some different discounts,” Gates added, listing off her efforts to attract customers.

At Cowboys and Divas in Franklin, owner Sarah Miller is also offering some incentives to get the customers through the door on Saturday.

“I’m gonna have hors d’ oeuvres, music, refreshments and things like that. Something to inspire people to let go of some cash for the holidays,” Miller said. “Any initiative to get’em out and get’em in the stores helps out a lot.”

In Dillsboro, Connie Hogan, owner of Tunnel Mountain Crafts, spearheaded efforts to rally merchants around Small Business Saturday. She worked with the Dillsboro Merchants Association to get people on board and hopes the event will boost weekend sales in the town.

“I told the DMA, let’s get all these supplies online so that we can have a big promotion,” Hogan said. “That’s about all it involves.”

At Nancy Tut’s Christmas Shop on Dillsboro’s main drag, shopkeeper Lisa Potts is optimistic. The season is usually fruitful for her business anyways, but she’s looking for Small Business Saturday to give things an extra bump.

“I think it’s good to keep people aware — small businesses, we’re here too,” Potts said.

But there is also some skepticism surrounding Small Business Saturday. For starters some merchants expressed hesitancy in embracing an event sponsored by American Express when their business doesn’t accept the credit card. 

“Here we call it ‘Shop Local Saturday,’” said Karen Wilmot, executive director of the Swain County Chamber of Commerce, downplaying the American Express aspect of the day. “Several of our businesses just don’t accept American Express. We want all of our community businesses to participate.”

Others wondered if the event actually did anything to boost shopping activity among local businesses.

Dixie Brendle, owner of Finder Keepers in Sylva, expressed some reservations about Small Business Saturday. She questioned the event slogan — “I don’t know if ‘shop small’ is the best slogan, we want’em to shop big” — and wondered if it were possible to redirect Thanksgiving’s commercial energy away from larger box stores.

“I don’t know what will change the mindset of people to shop with small businesses,” Brendle said, noting the mounting frenzy surrounding the coming shopping weekend. “I see people on Facebook talking about they’re so excited because the Black Friday ads for Wal-Mart are already out.”

 

Why small businesses matter

Small Business Saturday calls attention to an important sector of the marketplace and a special sector of society. Small businesses can be considered the lifeblood of the economy.

“Extremely important,” said Mark Clasby, executive director of the Haywood County Economic Development Commission. “They make a community viable.”

“Our small businesses are what makes our communities unique,” said Katy Gould, director of Haywood Community College’s Small Business Center. “They not only contribute to the tax base, they contribute to the quality of life.”

When shoppers purchase items at a larger establishment like Wal-Mart, the money they spend quickly leaves the local community. The bulk of it ultimately winds up with faceless shareholders in far-away places. 

But, when shoppers spend their money with locally-owned businesses, the money tends to stick around and circulate.

“It streams back into the community,” said Buffy Phillips, executive director of the Downtown Waynesville Association.

“We keep the dollars here. Larger corporations and big box stores, it goes out of the country,” said Charlie Trump, owner of Olde Brick House in Waynesville.

“That money tends to cycle and support other local businesses in the areas,” explained Gould.

This is a concept that small business owners understand on an intimate level. It is not a theory, it is a reality that plays out in tangible ways.

“People don’t realize what a real impact that is, that impacts their neighbors,” said Lorraine Conard, owner of Waynesville’s Strand at 38 Main theater. “Small business employs your friends and your neighbors.”

“You have a Wal-Mart move in and it destroys 16 or 17 small businesses,” said Cook. “You lose the owner, you lose the manager, you lose the accountant, you lose all these people that are making a living wage.”

“Small businesses are really the life blood of a community,” said Conard. “As small businesses die, you see communities die. They turn into bedroom communities.”

And this is a concept that local business owners seem ready to share with their patrons. They want shoppers to know that their purchases matter.

“They’re the backbone of the whole country,” said Bob Long, owner of The Kitchen Shop in Waynesville. “If it wasn’t for the small businesses, forget about it.”

Richard Miller, owner of The Classic Wineseller in Waynesville, pointed out that small businesses are also sources of support for local causes. When the businesses thrive, he said, so too do local charities, organizations and causes.

“They’re the ones that support the high school marching band, they’re the ones that support all the little local causes,” said Miller. “Who supports them? It’s not corporate America.”

At the Jackson Chamber, Spiro thinks that people are beginning to get the message.

“People are understanding the allure of it, more so than in previous years,” Spiro said. “There is intrinsic value in knowing that you are doing something to support your local area. That money stays in this area.”

At the Olde Brick House, Trump too is optimistic the message is resonating. 

“When we talk to them they realize and understand that,” he said. “I think we’re having more and more people realizing that.”

And if people seem unclear about the importance of small businesses to a community, Trump will be sure to explain everything to them. 

“We try to let folks know that small businesses are the backbone of our country and we’re open more than just that Saturday,” the business owner said. “We’re a small business for 365 days a year.”

 

 

Buying local made easy

Big box stores make it easy for shoppers to find the deals and steals of the season. They plaster their message in newspaper and television ads, luring shoppers to their doors for Black Friday and virtual doors on Cyber Monday.

Small businesses typically don’t have such marketing resources. But shopping locally will be made a bit easier for Western North Carolina residents this year, as Buy Haywood is providing a listing of member merchants for shoppers to choose from.

“It gives shoppers a convenient start,” said Tina Masciarelli, of Buy Haywood.

The listing can be found at http://www.buyhaywood.com/shop-small/shopsmall-ideas, and also provides shoppers with potential gift ideas.

Buy Haywood is also asking shoppers to take a pledge to support small businesses with their purchases. The pledge requests that people shift at least 10 percent of their planned holiday shopping budget to small business purchases, and particulars can be found at http://www.buyhaywood.com/shop-small/buy-local-challenge.

“Just some piece of your budget makes a difference,” said Lorraine Conard, owner of The Strand at 38 Main theater in Waynesville.

 

Small Business Saturday

Small Business Saturday is sponsored by American Express. It debuted in 2010. The event falls on the Saturday following Black Friday, when shoppers traditionally descend on big box stores and malls in search of holiday deals and sales. Conversely, Small Business Saturday is designed to encourage shoppers to spend their money with locally owned small businesses.

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