Small Business Saturday focuses on community shopping

| Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2013, 7:17 p.m.

Owners of mom-and-pop shops in western Pennsylvania say they hope consumers spend less on Black Friday and more on Small Business Saturday.

In 2010, American Express launched Small Business Saturday, which occurs the first Saturday after Thanksgiving. The idea was to encourage holiday shoppers to support small businesses in their local communities. Small Business Saturday now also is being promoted by the U.S. Small Business Administration and National Federation of Independent Business.

Staff of some local small businesses say that after a slow start, Small Business Saturday has increased in popularity with consumers.

“It took like a year or two to catch on,” said Stephanie Ferguson, vice president of James Douglas Jewelers in Monroeville and Murrysville.

“Consumers maybe didn't understand it really in the first year, but it seems from the second year on, it has picked up momentum.”

Ferguson said consumers can play a more active role in what they're buying at the jewelry store than if they were to pick something out of a big-box store's display case.

“We give them more options by giving them more of an input in what they want,” Ferguson said.

“They can design something more of their own and play a part in that process, which makes the experience more intimate and gives them an even better story to tell about how they got their piece of jewelry.”

The Monroeville Area Chamber of Commerce had scheduled a ribbon cutting for the recently remodeled James Douglas Jewelers in that municipality on Monday, which was to double as a way to kick off a push for holiday shopping at local small businesses.

“It's an opportunity to bring a spotlight onto the chamber, James Douglas Jewelers and other businesses,” Monroeville Area Chamber of Commerce President Frank Horrigan said.

Sharyn Meredith, owner of Creative Stiches Café in Monroeville, said that while national chains can offer cheaper deals, her small store strives to combine higher-quality products with better customer service.

Meredith used the sale of sewing machines as an example.

“It's very hard to sell sewing machines from $300 to $1,500, but we warranty it, stand behind our warranty and give you free classes to learn how to use your machine,” Meredith said.

In Sewickley, owners of small businesses also are courting customers.

Trisha Santelli, co-owner of Sewickley Sporting Goods, said consumers already are coming into the store looking for Christmas gift ideas.

“It's encouraging to have people come in this month and say they're here to get ready for Christmas shopping, and it'd be really nice to have them plan us on their lists,” Santelli said.

She pointed out several advantages of shopping small on Small Business Saturday instead of going to a big-box store on Black Friday.

“You don't have to fight mall traffic, you can take time to try things on and order it if you want it in a different color or size and get great service,” Santelli said.

Fun Buy the Pound, a toy store in Sewickley, will have an extra employee for Small Business Saturday.

“It's a kickoff event for small-business shopping that I think a lot of people want to be involved in,” said Brenda Fisk, owner of Fun Buy the Pound.

While online shopping might be the toy store's greatest competition, Fisk said, consumers shouldn't overlook Fun Buy the Pound.

“If you look at prices, consumers think that if you're a small store you're going to be expensive, but that's not true,” she said.

Danielle Franks, owner of House 15143 in Sewickley, said that the home-décor store is gearing up for Small Business Saturday and the weeks leading up to Christmas with staff.

“Small Business Saturday is a very good boost for business,” Franks said.

“They've advertised that more and more each year, and we definitely have heard a lot of people mentioning it.”

Franks said she and co-owner Kristin Bordeau offer more unique products than big-box stores, and they sell products that they would want to buy.

“We really are our customer,” Franks said.

“We live the same way our customers do and try to buy things that people want at this time of year.”

Lois Woleslagle, president of the Irwin Business and Professionals Association, or IBPA, said that she had not heard of Small Business Saturday.

However, the association created 16 events this year to promote small businesses. The most recent event was Light Up Night on Nov. 21. On Dec. 6, the IBPA will hold its annual Cookie Tour to promote small businesses.

Woleslagle, owner of Interiors By Woleslagle, said her business doesn't do well during holidays.

“Holidays are my worst weeks because no one is looking to tear up their house on a holiday,” Woleslagle said.

Amanda Maderas, owner of Mixes Galore in Irwin is the secretary of IBPA, on the board of directors for the Norwin Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Norwin Rotary Club. Mixes Galore sells more than 120 gourmet food mixes and kitchenware.

Maderas said shopping small keeps the community vibrant.

“When consumers shop small, it supports the community because 50 percent goes back to community, and it keeps the community thriving,” Maderas said.

She said there is only one vacant storefront in Irwin.

“Driving down Main Street, it's so nice to see all of our business, and it's more appealing to everyone to drive down a main street like that than one with a lot of vacant storefronts,” Maderas said.

“It's like this because our community is supportive of our small business.”

Shawn Annarelli is a freelance writer.

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