Mon Valley firms brace for 'Small Business Saturday'
Shoppers are rediscovering the business districts in their own communities, Debbie Keefer believes.
This is nowhere more apparent than in the Mid-Mon Valley, said the executive director of the Mon Valley Regional Chamber of Commerce.
On Saturday, downtown businesses will be in the spotlight, both nationally and in the Valley, as the fourth annual Small Business Saturday is observed.
“Its gaining momentum,” Keefer said. “This year, the business districts are really recognizing it and working together to make sure there are activities and promotions that day.”
Keefer said participating businesses will have balloons outside their shops that denote a message: “Welcome to the neighborhood. We're a part of Small Business Saturday.
“We all have great business districts – Charleroi, Monongahela, North Belle Vernon, etc.,” Keefer said. “I'm definitely seeing the revival of the downtown business districts. People are getting back to shopping in their local business districts.”
Held the Saturday after Thanksgiving, Small Business Saturday was first held Nov. 27, 2010, as a counterpart to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, which feature big box retail and e-commerce stores respectively. By contrast, Small Business Saturday encourages holiday shoppers to patronize small businesses, especially in the communities where they live in and work.
Keefer said many Charleroi businesses are working together, offering special deals on Small Business Saturday. Participating businesses will hand out a coupon sheet for other downtown businesses. In addition some will offer refreshments.
Gina Lynn, executive director of the Greater Rostraver Chamber of Commerce, said her chamber encourages the shop small and local concept as a daily occurrence, not just on that one day.
“Our tagline is Keep IT Local, and we offer suggestions and encouragement to our members as to what the ‘IT' can be – dining local, shopping local, utilizing service providers such as hair, massage, tax accountants, chiropractors, who are local as well,” Lynn said. “We communicate to our members and consumers the importance of keeping spending dollars in our community.
“By spending local, we support our neighbors and friends who own and operate the businesses. Our purchases then provide tax revenue to our communities, and our local businesses provide employment. It goes full circle. Shopping online, although conven-ient, provides no benefit to the community at all.”
Lynn said she believes it is important for consumers to get out in the downtown community and meet the local shopkeepers and business owners, support their businesses and thank them for what they bring to the community.
That is why Broad Avenue merchants initiated the Broad Avenue Christmas Crawl, Lynn said. The 2nd annual Christmas Crawl will be held 10 a.m. Dec. 7.
“The merchants will again open their doors and welcome the shoppers, residents and curiosity seekers into their shops, salons, and storefronts, providing holiday refreshments, special promotions, decorated window displays and more,” Lynn said.
“This is a great opportunity to see all the wonderful businesses along ‘the Avenue.'”
Last year, the event was attended by Carl Knoblock and Regina Abel, district director and representative of the Small Business Administration, Lynn said.
“I'm hearing they were so impressed by the support the community gave the event, they are planning to attend again this year,” Lynn said.
“‘Santa Shops the Avenue, Do You?' is the theme and you will see the big guy and some of his elves out and about as well. The weather was absolutely perfect last year, which added to the festive, almost block party feel of the event. I am hopeful it's the same this year.”
Lynn said the chamber and business members must educate consumers about the importance of supporting their communities.
“The Broad Avenue Business District is growing,” Lynn said. “There are only a handful of storefront vacancies in the business district that goes from the 300 to the 1100 block of Broad Avenue. The rent in this downtown district is reasonable, the storefronts are attractive, there is ample free parking on Broad Avenue and on the side streets and it's walkable from end to end with sidewalks.”
Lynn said five new businesses opened on Broad Avenue in the last few months.
“So I do see a resurgence and revitalization here in North Belle Vernon,” Lynn said.
“In West Newton, the town is revitalizing as well, with the addition of the town square and farmers market held weekly this past summer.
“And Perryopolis has quite a few shops offering unique items within their town square and vicinity. One of oldest, independent drug stores, Perry Drug, still operates there as well.
“I think we, the chamber of commerce, the elected officials and town representatives need to continue to promote the importance of supporting our local business owners and how this will have an effect on our communities.”
Anthony Bottino, president of the Monongahela Area Chamber of Commerce, agreed.
Bottino said he's “seeing some very positive signs in our downtown.”
“While there are many contributing factors, there is one common factor that is the difference – the value,” Bottino said.
“Small-town living represents a quality of life that has value. It is simply better.”
Bottino said people always speak so fondly of the old days when they grew up in a small community and the towns were alive.
“People knew one another. It was safer,” Bottino said.
“People felt better. Everything was convenient. Money stayed in the community instead of going somewhere else.
“They were proud of where they lived. Small communities represented God-loving, hard working people with a strong set of values. Everyone was a part of something. It was better. ... It is better” Bottino said.
“Those values are alive and well in the Monongahela area. Those values are why our community is growing and improving.
“People value what a small town stands for – the feeling that you get walking down the street of your hometown and being proud. It's not quite the same feeling that you get after wasting half of a day waiting in line in a box store somewhere then walking a mile to find your car in a mega lot with a cart against the fender.
“Are people ditching the malls for small towns? Not yet. We cannot offer everything that a mall can.
“Are people coming back to small towns like ours?
“Absolutely. Malls cannot begin to offer what we can.”
Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or firstname.lastname@example.org.