Shop Local on Small Business Saturday

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The impact of Small Business Saturday extends far beyond the single day that follows the big box-centric retail extravaganza known as Black Friday. It brings broader attention to the value of patronizing local businesses, champions of the event say.

“They really gain from the visibility and the excitement that surrounds the day,” remarks Nicole Leinbach Reyhle, founder of RetailMinded.com, an online magazine for small businesses.

Reyhle is serving her third consecutive year as national spokeswoman for Small Business Saturday, an event launched by American Express in 2010 to focus attention on locally owned businesses at the traditional start of the holiday season.

“Small businesses are always looking for ways to stand out in a competitive marketplace and this really helps them to do that,” she says.

Last year, 95 million customers “shopped small” across all 50 states, according to a survey conducted afterward, an 8% increase from 2014. Spending at independent retailers and restaurants on Small Business Saturday 2015 reached $16.2 billion, up 14% and nearly $2 billion from the year before, she says.

As the event has grown, businesses and communities have built on the promotion in unusual ways, Reyhle says. In the Historic South End District in Charlotte, N.C., Small Business Saturday features bands and shuttles to participating businesses. Last year, the American Booksellers Association and the Indies First movement collaborated to host authors at independent bookstores across the country.

This year, Small Business Saturday falls on Nov. 26, two days after Thanksgiving. Businesses and communities throughout the Mahoning and Shenango valleys will participate in this year’s edition, including The Cortland Specialty Shops’ annual Gingerbread Walk.

“It’s been wonderful. It seems like every year we do more and more, adding businesses, vendors and activities,” remarks Christina Benton, owner of Just Pizzelles in downtown Cortland, noting attendance has also increased every year.

In addition to the dozen Cortland businesses that participate, another 25 vendors will set up shop in the Opera House, along with a gingerbread house contest, a life-size gingerbread house for kids to get pictures taken beside, live music and face painting.

Benton agrees about the value of the exposure the shopping holiday brings because her business has seen increased sales from people coming to the Gingerbread Walk who “hadn’t previously known that it existed,” he says.

In Sharon, Pa., Small Business Saturday is all about showcasing the unique items available from downtown retailers, items that can’t be found at the mall or at the big-box stores, says Laura Ackley, spokeswoman for Greater Sharon Associates.

A few years ago, organizers combined the small-business promotion with the city’s annual celebration that kicks off the holiday season, creating the Small Business Saturday Holiday Extravaganza.

“It was so successful the first year we moved the Night of Lights to Small Business Saturday. It was such a hit that everybody on the committee decided to lump them together to make the Holiday Extravaganza,” Ackley says.

The focus during the day is shopping. Around 5 p.m., it shifts to a more traditional holiday celebration program that features horse-drawn sleighs, carolers, dancers and lit braziers to help people keep warm.

The day also serves as the kickoff for Downtown ShopAround, a month-long event designed to attract shoppers and tourists to downtown venues. Participants have through Dec. 20 to submit their entries to win some of the $5,000 worth of prizes participating merchants offer.

“This model is working. It has been very successful,” Ackley says. “This is our No. 1 retail shopping day.” The event is successful because collaboration, not competition is urged. “The only reason this day is successful is because all of these dozens of small, independent individuals or businesses get together to make it happen,” she says.

In Trumbull County, the Warren Redevelopment and Planning Corp., or WRAP, is capitalizing on Small Business Saturday to promote two new businesses that will open in 2017, Nova Coffee Co. and the Sew Cute! sewing shop.

Both businesses, which will offer sneak peeks on Nov. 26, are participants in the city’s new Pop-Up Project, a pilot program to support businesses downtown, says Melissa Holmes, WRAP program manager.

“The pop-up program is one of our primary programs to support downtown economic development,” Holmes remarks.

The initiative provides an opportunity for entrepreneurs to move into the central business district and benefit from three months’ free rent, technical assistance from WRAP and access to a forgivable microloan.

Holmes expects Sew Cute! to open in the WRRO building “sooner rather than later” while “significant renovations” must be completed before Nova can move into the former Gene’s Jewelry space, she reports.

Marissa Devantier, owner of The Shop on Liberty Street and Vintie Design Co. in Hubbard, plans to promote local small businesses on a wider scale. She is involved with gathering a group of individuals described as “strong social media influencers” – including Derrick McDowell, founder of the Youngstown Flea Market for Makers, Phil Kidd, founder of Defend Youngstown, and Sarah Mohn, president of Jet Creative – to promote small businesses in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties.

“The best way to do that is to work with other local entrepreneurs and utilize social media. We want to utilize it to the fullest capacity we can,” Devantier says.

Those social media influencers will visit pockets of small businesses in four communities – Columbiana, Boardman, Youngstown and Hubbard – in the days leading up to Small Business Saturday and post content under #proudtoshoplocal to drive more traffic to those shops.

“Everyone is doing it out of the goodness of their heart,” Devantier says. “It’s been amazing to watch them want to rally together and support local businesses.” No businesses are paying to be part of the campaign and all small businesses in the Valley are encouraged to join by posting to social media as well.

Devantier, who will mark her third Small Business Saturday this year, is well aware of the importance of the day and promoting local shops. Like other retailers, that Saturday is the busiest day of the year for her shop. “We really bank on this,” she says. “It’s tremendously important.”

The social media aspect of the project can’t be overstated, she adds, “because that content won’t go away” and the collaboration among small businesses is “a great thing that is being built,” she says.

“Your customers are going to stick with you when you build genuine relationships. This is a great example of businesses helping each other.”

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.