Community column: Shopping small can make big local impact
If you’re not too exhausted after Black Friday or if you naturally incline toward a mellower shopping experience, put on your comfortable shoes and call your best girl or guy friends because today is Shop Small Saturday. The official moniker is Small Business Saturday, a national promotion sponsored by American Express. But I prefer the catchier version as an imperative approach is always livelier and certainly invokes action.
And the small business owners I talked with are a highly charged bunch. They are ready for this holiday shopping season, and most applaud the boost provided by the nationwide publicity and campaign.
“I appreciate a corporation that is willing to promote small business and independent business owners,” agreed Paula Bolte, who owns and operates Annie Kay’s and Imaginations Toy and Furniture stores in Blacksburg. “I will participate in any project that supports small stores.” Bolte knew about the movement’s origins and is also very active in others. Her business doors bear materials from Shop Small Saturday, the American Independent Business
Alliance, and The 3/50 Project, which is, based on my research, the easiest to admire.
Founded by an actual “independent brick and mortar merchant,” the program name pronounces its key principles: “What three independently owned businesses would you miss if they disappeared? If half the employed population spent $50 each month in locally owned independent businesses, it would generate more than $42.6 billion in revenue” (www.the350project.net).
Small Business Saturday has a corporate cloak of one of America’s largest businesses with 58,300 employees and annual revenues in the range of $20 billion. Such patronage made me wonder a bit about motivations for the marketing campaign. And, in fact, some businesses that do not accept American Express appear to be left out of the loop. National incentives provide a credit to card carriers. Qualified businesses wishing to take advantage of branding and marketing tools had to enroll by Monday.
But in spite of possible restrictions and qualifiers, all of the small business owners I talked with for this column agree: Any kind of encouragement to support local, independent retail is a good thing.
Becky Lattuca who owns The Green Heron Art Center in Radford, which currently accepts no credit cards, recalls shoppers arriving last year on this designated day: “We did get new customers because of the promotions last year.” She looks forward to seeing a similar trend for 2012. The on-consignment store carries goods from over 75 local artists and crafters.
“A lot of people in Blacksburg try to shop local over the holidays,” notes Nancyne Willoughby, owner of Fringe Benefit, a women’s boutique. Willoughby was well-versed in the teachings of The 3/50 Project: “For every $100 spent in locally owned independent stores, $68 returns to the community through taxes, payroll, and other expenditures. If you spend that in a national chain, only $43 stays here. Spend it online and nothing comes home.”
According to the U.S. Commerce Department, e-commerce sales reached $194.3 billion in 2011. It’s an e-jungle out there, for sure. Keeping a small business afloat in this day requires all the energy, enthusiasm and collaborative effort you can muster. Again, my model business owners know that well. Lattuca plans to extend her shopping hours. Willoughby will do a few in-store specials.
And while the mob shopping of Black Friday is more a phenomenon at the big-box venues than small businesses, capable merchants know how to attach their own cachet to the event. Bolte offered Black Friday Survivor Bags, “to be opened at first sign of shopper fatigue.” Those in peril found a bottle of water, a granola bar, a piece of chocolate, and hand wipes. The kit includes a small note with instructions on relaxation exercises and select words to the wise, which I think will be helpful to all of us as we embark on this holiday season: From Lily Tomlin, “For fast acting relief, try slowing down.”
By Catherine Van Noy
Special to The Burgs | 639-3330
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