In its second year, the American Express-sponsored push aims to get consumers spending in smaller shops the Saturday after Thanksgiving, in lieu of Black Friday, to revitalize the shop-local tradition and infuse local economies. Participating small businesses around the country are encouraged to offer deals to entice shoppers, and in the process build a foundation for a new holiday shopping tradition.
Plus, it feeds money directly back into communities. One study shows $45 of every $100 spent at small, local businesses stays in the local economy. National chains only keep local $13 of every $100 spent.
The initiative’s reach extends to towns and neighborhoods across the country, including New York’s Greenpoint neighbourhood. Nestled between trendy Williamsburg and Queens, it’s one of the last holdouts in northern Brooklyn. Only now are the young and hip noticeably carving out their place in the predominantly Polish area, filled with families and a distinct tight-knit feel. Locally-owned businesses, new and old, line the streets there.
Developing ways to promote local businesses has long been a priority for the neighbourhood, says business owner Ed Veneziano, the former co-chair of the Greenpoint Business Alliance, a volunteer organisation dedicated to serving and promoting the small businesses there. Veneziano also owns Cato’s Army & Navy, a business his parents started more than three decades ago.
The visibility associated with a company like American Express and its sponsorship of Small Business Saturday (New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg also put his weight behind the campaign) provides a needed boost, particularly in a tough economy.
A generational shift in shopping and spending habits, fuelled by easy access to chain stores, has complicated things a bit for small business, Veneziano says.
“The younger, newer consumers are almost taken aback by the whole mum-and-pop experience,” he says. “They’re so used to the mall shopping experience. When they come into a store and someone wants to help them…they’re almost nervous about it.”
But in order for these small businesses and communities like Greenpoint to thrive, younger shoppers must latch onto the old-school comfort of a unique, homey storefront with a staff that probably isn’t decked out in specific matching uniforms. Small Business Saturday, Veneziano says, is a key to remind people of that alternative.
“It’s really important having these kinds of initiatives so people can start thinking outside their usual comfort zone and re-embrace the idea that you can come to a local store,” he says. “The more things like that, the easier it is for small businesses to get people in that mindset.”
That’s exactly what Beth Lewand is going for. Her year-old Greenpoint-based beer and cheese boutique, Eastern District, wouldn’t be a typical stop for the hard-core holiday shoppers who hit the big stores, but Small Business Saturday offers her a chance to showcase a gift-giving alternative. She’ll offer product tastings, and hopes to convey what small business is all about.
“It’s a more humane approach to holiday shopping,” Lewand says. “It will remind people of this experience of walking around a neighbourhood and finding new places.”
The initiative might also offer a chance for young businesses to find a foothold. Troost, a months-old wine bar in Greenpoint, will feature an all-day happy hour for Small Business Saturday. The up-and-comer is also featured in Paper magazine’s New York City guide, a citywide list of promotions for the culture-conscious.
“We’re pretty excited about [Small Business Saturday],” says Troost co-owner John Ortiz. “We’re still climbing up that ladder, but it feels like it’s going in the right direction.”
“There’s an opportunity, especially in communities like Greenpoint that really can make a difference and become major mum-and-pop [or] small business thriving centres again,” Veneziano says. “Local businesses put a lot more into the local economy than those big-box stores.”
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