GENARO C. ARMAS
Black Friday may have belonged to big box retailers, but store owner Connie Harter would like consumers to think small today.
Across Pennsylvania and the rest of the country, thousands of little toy stores, diners and other mom-and-pop shops plan to offer their own discounts and promotions to attract holiday shoppers on what’s become known as Small Business Saturday.
“It’s very important for small businesses in local communities to get that support,” Harter, the owner of the Retrah clothing store in Lewisburg, said in a phone interview as she was ringing up customers at the cash register. “The money that’s spent downtown goes to local businesses to support local people with local jobs.”
American Express, the credit and charge card company, has said it created the day three years ago to help small businesses struggling during the recession. Cardholders registered online to make purchases get a $25 rebate if they make a purchase at a participating business.
But even merchants who aren’t participating in the official promotion hope to get a bump in foot traffic now that the holiday shopping season is under way. The broader hope is to keep to customers coming back, lured by personal service or more unique items that are less likely to be found at larger retailers.
In Lewisburg, Harter said she is offering a special 25 percent discount on outerwear today and another 25 percent off selected items in the shop she owns next door called The Gingerbread House, which sells baby gifts, fashion jewelry and other items.
At A Basket Full in Boalsburg, Centre County, owner Jennifer Bair said that some weary-eyed Black Friday shoppers made their gift store the last stop on their list after getting an early-morning start. Stores in the quaint village are offering discounts today, though the community will make another big push in a couple of weeks with a “Hometown Christmas” promotion.
Nevertheless, Thanksgiving weekend is “always very important. It just kind of kicks off the shopping season for Christmas,” Bair said. “It almost would have been nicer to have a little snow today to get that on people’s minds.”
Next door at Bella di Vita, owner Linda Esposito offers handmade soaps, ornaments and toiletries. Esposito hopes what she calls her European-inspired shop, housed in a small brick building, helps customers recall stores they might find Italy or France.
Esposito said she doesn’t put specific emphasis on Small Business Saturday or the Thanksgiving weekend to boost the bottom line more than the fourth quarter of every year overall.
“We’re most accommodating. We put things in a pretty bag, ready for gift-giving. It’s not thrown in a plastic bag,” Esposito said. “It’s exciting to bring relatives here when they come. Where are they going to go, Target? They have a Target.”
Small Business Saturday is sandwiched between Black Friday – the unofficial start of the Christmas shopping season – and Cyber Monday, another shopping holiday concocted to get consumers excited about shopping online on the Monday after Thanksgiving.
While some retailers get a nice increase in profits from Black Friday sales, the weekend apparently isn’t as profitable to most small businesses. According to a survey of about 1,000 small business owners commissioned by Bank of America, 91 percent said the day after Thanksgiving has little to no effect on profits.
Julian Stam, the owner of Pop’s Culture Shoppe in Wellsboro, hopes Small Business Saturday helps boost the profile of the storefront he opened in April.
The business, which sells games, toys, comics and art supplies, was only online until Stam said an ideal location opened up downtown in the small, north-central Pennsylvania community.
Small Business Saturday represents “an excellent opportunity” to build exposure for his fledgling business, Stam said.
He plans to offer free hot dogs and invite children to make ornaments at his store today.
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