Our Towns

Shenango Valley Celebrates Shopping Small

SHARON, Pa. – Especially during the holidays, Sharon, Pa., has always had a knack for making everyone feel at home. For decades now, each year it has hosted its Night of Lights on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, where Santa makes his big arrival and a fireworks show sparkles.

When American Express launched Small Business Saturday in 2010, the Greater Sharon Associates saw a golden opportunity to benefit its membership, most of which are local retailers, and provide a holiday shopping experience for visitors to the city. It has since branched out to include small businesses throughout the Shenango Valley.

“We do a Downtown ShopAround, which is actually a month-long event. The shoppers can register for prizes at all of the participating stores and restaurants,” says Laura Ackley, chairwoman of Greater Sharon Associates Fund and manager of Donna’s Diner in downtown Sharon. “There’s singing, dancing and other fun stuff. We are very grateful to American Express for starting this event and promoting it so much.”

The ShopAround has been held in downtown Sharon for eight years and many businesses participate, including Reyers Shoe Store, Blissed Out Design and Studio C. The festivities kick off Nov. 24, with a ribbon cutting on East State Street and features hot chocolate and treats for shoppers in the local businesses, great deals, as well as the arrival of Santa Claus, Christmas carolers and fireworks to end the evening.

Reyers Shoe Store has participated in the Downtown ShopAround since it started in an effort to bolster its own growth as well as that of other small businesses, says Mark Jubelirer, president of the company, adding that he enjoys the “help one, help all” mentality of shopping local.

“Through our Small Business Saturday Shop-Around, local merchants can give back to the community. There are many family-owned businesses here that offer unique products, things you can’t find at big-box stores,” he says.

Reyers began with John Reyer, an immigrant from Germany who was a cobbler. There were many shoe stores in Sharon, but Jubelirer’s father bought the store from Reyer and it is now the most popular shoe store in the area, Jubelirer says.

He says he looks forward every year to giving back to his loyal customers and interacting with the other small businesses in downtown Sharon.

“We cross-promote with the other businesses and the customers go from store to store and can sign up for special gifts and win up to $5,000. Also, Santa is coming to town, of course,” Jubelirer says. “We’ll have local bands, chorales and singing, artwork, a horse-drawn sleigh and fireworks at the end of the day. It’s a cooperative event that’s good for the local businesses, consumers and charity.”

Since Small Business Saturday started, Jubelirer says his Saturday business on that weekend has grown. According to the National Retail Federation, the weekend after Thanksgiving is the biggest of the year for retail shopping. This year, the association projects holiday spending to increase 4.8% to $720.89 billion.

Reyers will be running a storewide sale on Small Business Saturday, offering 20% to 75% off of most shoes and 10% off athletic equipment.

Ackley from the Greater Sharon Associates Fund says the horse-drawn sleigh rides serve as a fundraiser for the Sharon Backpack Program, which feeds 300 hungry children each weekend.

The ceremony also includes a special torch-lighting tradition to honor other religious holidays, Ackley says.

“We light a holiday torch and it stays lit throughout the entire season. All through Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanza and Orthodox Christmas, we keep that torch lit,” she says. “It doesn’t get extinguished until after Orthodox Christmas in January.”

Ackley agrees with Jubelirer that keeping money within the community is the most important part of shopping local. The idea that shopping local will help drive more small businesses to open keeps Ackley looking forward to the future.

“We are all locally owned businesses in downtown Sharon. So shopping local here helps with the economic development,” she says. “The more downtown thrives, it will stretch out and help improve all of Sharon and the rest of the valley.”

Sherris Moreira, executive director of Shenango Valley Chamber of Commerce, points to the economic benefits of shopping locally beyond just the boost to retailers.

“If a small-business community is active and doing well in a region, it will help attract families who will move to the area for jobs and attract more businesses to bring more jobs to our area,” Moreira says.

The Shenango area is going through an interesting “Rust Belt revitalization,” she continues.

“We’re not Pittsburgh or Cleveland, but we certainly are in the Rust Belt,” she says. “We’ve been excited to see businesses relocating here and people are coming here to find that small-town lovely neighborhood experience.”

Moreira says shoppers interested in the holiday ShopAround can follow the details of the day on the Facebook page of the Shenango Valley Chamber.

Studio C in Hermitage, Pa., is a nonprofit shop that sells homemade items including decorations, T-shirts and treats, and supporting individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities, says Mary Ann Johnson, director of the shop.

“Everything you see in Studio C is made by those individuals, with the help of our staff. They sell their creations here, as well as people from around the community,” she says.

Whole Life Services, the parent organization of Studio C, has grown over the years from helping a couple of people in a basement to enlarging its own building and employing many of the adults to create the sweet treats sold in the shop.

“We started a sweets business, where our individuals make chocolate-covered Oreos, Oreos with peanut butter cups in them, and chocolate-covered pretzels. They get paid minimum wage to help us make the treats, as well as the T-shirts,” Johnson says.

While business has been a little slow recently, she says the new design of the building has helped draw in curious shoppers, which in turn has boosted sales. Johnson plans to hold some specials on Small Business Saturday.

“It would be great for folks to stop in and see what we’re all about. We have a lot of Christmas decorations, handcrafted jewelry and a nice variety of things,” she says.

Blissed Out Design in Sharon, owned by Linda Smiley and Mike Sakony, is in its fifth year and offers handcrafted gifts such as ornaments, coasters, wood prints, bottle openers and more using photographs from around the area and historic parts of Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania. The couple also makes personalized items.

Blissed Out Design owners Linda Smiley and Mike Sakony sell “art that you can use.”

“We wanted to take our work and put it on something other than a wall piece. That’s kind of how the coasters evolved. It’s a piece of art that you can use,” Smiley says. “Everybody is very supportive of Small Business Saturday here. We’ve gotten a lot of feedback from people who really enjoy buying local artisan gifts.”

For Black Friday and Small Business Saturday weekend, Blissed Out Design will be discounting 50% off drink coasters and ornaments as well.

“Small Business Saturday is our biggest day in November. It’s really important to shop local, keep money local, and grow more business that will bring people in,” she says.

Pictured: Mark Jubelirer, president of Reyers Shoe Store, says business on Small Business Saturday has increased each year since it started.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.