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Small Business Saturday: Celebrating Local Retailers

The Saturday after Thanksgiving is Now a Well-Established Holiday Shopping Event

At one point in my journalistic career I took a break, followed my passion and opened a clothing boutique in the small village of East Hampton. Up until then I’d written about small businesses, wrote stories about the shop local movement and covered broader issues about the problems facing “Main Street.” 

None of them could have prepared me for the joys and heartaches of owning a business. 

For the three years I ran my little store there were three days of the year that were my biggest money-makers; Christmas Eve, Mother’s Day and Small Business Saturday, in that order. 

We’ve all heard the stats about shopping local, that with every dollar you spend in a local business nearly 70 percent of that money stays right in your community. 

Small businesses make up more than 99 percent of all businesses in the country - and employ nearly 50 percent of all workers - yet only about half of all small businesses survive for more than five years. 

So local support of small businesses is clearly crucial.   

In recognition of that reality, American Express in 2009 kicked off its Shop Business Saturday program. Held on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, the event, also known as Shop Small Saturday, is sandwiched between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, two important shopping days that kick off the all-important holiday shopping season for retailers. 

The program began at a time when the country was still in the midst of a deep recession wrought by the subprime loan crisis and the housing market collapse. American Express wanted to find a way to help struggling small businesses and support local communities. 

"We all have favorite small businesses we can't imagine living without," American Express says on its website. "However, fewer small businesses are opening and staying open. To be successful requires an abundance of grit, passion and determination."

This year’s Small Business Saturday event will take place on Nov. 28. 

In 2011, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution supporting the day and now all 50 states officially participate with promotional backing and other programs. 

Small Business Saturday sought to tap into the larger Shop Small and locavore movements that have swept the country in the last decade. Consumers, worried about political, social and ecological impacts of their buying choices have sought out more local sources for their food, clothing and other goods. 

Locally, Small Business Saturday could have its greatest impact this year, says MaryEllen Dombrowski, president of the Connecticut River Valley Chamber of Commerce. 

“Small Business Saturday is more important in 2020 than it has ever been in the past.  Eighty percent of the Chamber’s members have 10 or fewer employees, they are small businesses. The pandemic has impacted most of them in such a way that without our ongoing patronage, many may not be able to survive for several more months.”  

"Every sale, each take out order and gift card purchase makes a difference to all retailers today," Dombrowski says. "If you were accustomed to eating out weekly, reinstate your routine and order take out, for your holiday gift giving, buy gift cards from a local retailer. Black Friday does not benefit small business in Glastonbury, invest in your hometown.

"Glastonbury is primarily comprised of small businesses – their absence will impact our “hometown” Main Street and the vibrancy of our community.  Vacancies are already visible on Main Street; we need to frequent our coffee and gift shops, restaurants and salons, and all the other unique businesses that make us Glastonbury well beyond Small Business Saturday. "

The group Our Town America lists seven ways shopping small can help your community. 

1) Small businesses give back to the community

When you spend money in your neighborhood, your sales tax stays in your neighborhood. You help fund public education, parks, and street improvements, not to mention vital services like firefighting and mosquito control.

2) Local store owners create local jobs

The Small Business Administration reports that local businesses added 8 million jobs to the American economy since 1990 while the expansion of large chains reduced jobs by 4 million.

3) Local owners buy local services themselves

Independent local businesses go into their local community to buy the supporting services they need.

4) Local establishments provide great customer service

Business owners rely on great customer service to build a loyal customer base, so it is comforting to know you will be shopping in a store that is genuinely happy to assist you.

5) Small businesses create a sense of community

Human beings seek a feeling of belonging and familiarity in the towns in which they live. 

6) It feels good to help neighbors and friends succeed

There’s something special about knowing the owner of the store when you walk in. It’s always a comforting feeling to see that poster of the local Little League team in the coffee shop window.

7) It’s about preserving the community

The American Independent Business Alliance has another great reason to shop locally: “The disappearance of local businesses leaves a social and economic void that is palpable and real — even when it goes unmeasured," AIBA says. “A community’s quality of life changes in ways that macroeconomics is slow to measure, or ignores completely.”


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