Sharon Merchants Eagerly Await ‘Holiday Extravaganza’

SHARON, Pa. – Shelby Camerlengo, one of the owners of Brewtus Brewing Co. in Sharon, Pa., is looking forward to her first Small Business Saturday. In fact, the restaurant is opening two hours early Saturday.

“We actually don’t open until 11 for lunch so we decided to switch things up a little bit and we’re going to be open for breakfast at 9,” she says.

Business has been good since Brewtus, which she says is the first on-premises microbrewery and restaurant in the Shenango Valley, opened four months ago in downtown Sharon.

“I’m excited about getting the locals here,” she says. Much of the restaurant’s following is from the Youngstown area so she hopes Small Business Saturday will draw more customers from closer to home.

“We’re finding that a lot of people still don’t realize how many shops are downtown and that the brewery’s open,” she says. “I’m hoping that Small Business Saturday is going to draw a lot of people.”

Small Business Saturday is the post-Black Friday event launched by American Express to promote smaller local retailers. Downtown Sharon is roughly two miles from the retail center of Mercer County, Hermitage, where many national retail chains are located.

Sharon first took part in Small Business Saturday four years ago. In 2013, Sharon merged that event with its downtown holiday celebration, Night of Lights.

“The big-box stores and the chains have Black Friday and now the online stores have Cyber Monday. This is time for the small, mom-and-pop, locally owned stores to have their day,” proclaims Laura Ackley.

Ackley, general manager of Donna’s Diner and the Buhl Mansion, is chairwoman of Small Business Saturday in Sharon. “Exponentially, small businesses have been growing in beautiful downtown Sharon and it’s just exciting to have a day set aside for us,” she adds.

That attention is critical for small retailers like those in Sharon, she says. Data show that up to 40% of the money spent at local restaurants and retailers remains in the community, far more than remains of purchases made at chains and big-box stores, Ackley points out.

Sharon’s Small Business Saturday Holiday Extravaganza begins with a ribbon cutting at 10 a.m., then a “Downtown ShopAround” to encourage shoppers to visit the retailers there. Merchants have donated prizes for promotional contests, carolers will sing inside the stores and shoppers can take “Selfies with Santa.”

“Four years ago we had 12 merchants participate in that throughout the holiday season. Last year we had almost 50 small, locally owned businesses participate in our Downtown ShopAround and we gave away almost $5,000 worth of prizes,” Ackley reports.

Some merchants have special offers, complimentary refreshments or other giveaways at their shops. Brewtus is among those that will conduct its own basket giveaway.

“In the evening, we really wrap our arms around the community with our Night of Lights,” Ackley says. The evening features free snacks and drinks, entertainment, fireworks, the holiday tree lighting and horse-drawn sleigh rides offered as a fundraiser for the Community Food Warehouse of Mercer County.

The date is projected to be a “record-breaking day” for sales at downtown merchants, she reports.

That’s definitely the case for Gallery 29, which opened about 2½ years ago, says co-owner Anthony Kropp.

Kropp, who this year is in charge of organizing daytime entertainment, attributes some 60% of the holiday sales at the downtown art gallery to the day.

“Small Business Saturday is just an incredible day for us. It’s actually our busiest shopping day of the whole year,” he says. A featured artist will be on hand “so that any of the customers that come in could talk to her, find out about her craft and what she does,” he says.

At Designs by G, Small Business Saturday accounts for 25% of holiday sales, and “is by far my best day of the year here,” owner Geri Perna-Ibanez affirms.

“It makes people aware of how important it is to support your locally owned shops,” she says. People will walk in who “didn’t even know I existed,” she adds.

This year, Perna-Ibanez, whose shop has been in business 4½ years, will give away a calendar with 31 pairs of handmade earrings attached that’s worth $450. “So the winner gets a pair of earrings for every day of the month,” she says.

Small Business Saturday “blew the roof off of my sales for every other day of the year,” says Carla Infante, owner of Never Enough Yarn.

Last year she made more on Small Business Saturday than during most months. “This is a big season for yarn” because people purchase it to make gifts, she says.

Sara McCauley, like her fellow downtown shopkeepers, points to Small Business Saturday as her biggest day. She owns two stores, Redeemed and Beaders Utopia. “People come downtown and they are here to shop. They’re here to buy things,” she says.

Among the new businesses looking to benefit is Cravings Café and Creamery, which opened in May. The shop is “basically a huge collaboration of all things local,” general manager Julie Byer says. The shop features Philadelphia Candies, food from Mr. D’s and coffee from the O’Neill Coffee Co. “We also have the famous Penn State Creamery ice cream,” she adds.

From Small Business Saturday and similar events, Byer says she looks mainly for greater exposure. “There are still a lot of people who don’t know we’re here just because of the location,” she says.

For the event, Byer says she might bring in Haitian Sensation, another local restaurant that makes “amazing authentic Caribbean cuisine,” to cook outside of her shop on Shenango Avenue.

Pictured: Shelby Camerlengo, one of the owners of Brewtus Brewing Co. in Sharon, Pa.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.