Small Business Saturday is here, a chance amid challenging times for local retailers to make up some of the ground they’ve lost this year to the pandemic.
The goal every year is to get shoppers to come through the doors of local storefront retailers on a day sandwiched between shopping events that favor corporate retailers (Black Friday) and online retailers (Cyber Monday).
For decades this has been an imperative for local merchants, whether they’re selling artisanal chocolate or jewelry or goat milk soap.
With doors having closed and shoppers vanished for a chunk of 2020, Small Business Saturday holds particular significance this year.
Here’s what three local merchants are hoping to accomplish:
FINDING A SWEET SPOT
Cousins Jay and Oliver Holecek have just opened their first retail location in 518 Craft, the Shmaltz Brewing Company taproom in downtown Troy, after operating a pop-up stand in front of the taproom this summer.
Primo Botanica is a small craft chocolate maker in a small location, but the company is not brand new — it has been selling its products for three years online, at farmers markets and at food festivals, and has expanded its wholesale network to have its products on shelves in 30 stores on both coasts.
“This is the only time I’ve run a shop,” Oliver Holecek said.
Why open one now, of all times? Because the right space was available — his craft chocolate company will share space with similarly inclined makers of coffee and beer.
(Hernan Lopez, formerly of Stacks Espresso Bar, who collaborated with the Holeceks at the pop-up this summer, also has a space in 518 Craft for his new business, Alias Coffee.)
Primo Botanica, with its ethically sourced vegan ingredients, has been building its connection with the chocolate-tasting community through Instagram posts and other online.
Oliver Holecek hopes to boost the profile of the storefront Saturday.
“We’re actually having a mini-market with five vendors,” he said. It will be “efficient, easy and safe for people who are buying Christmas and Hanukkah presents.”
Food will be served outside and a circuit traffic pattern will keep people moving past the vendors inside at safe intervals.
The event continues at 518 Craft into the next day, which the craft beer industry is promoting as Small Brewery Sunday … look for exotic beer, chocolate bites and custom-roasted espresso.
ALL THAT GLITTERS
Northeastern Fine Jewelry has worked over the years to gain more business from Black Friday and Small Business Saturdays. A decade ago it gave away the first-generation iPad to shoppers as a promotion. In 2020, it has morphed the two days into an entire week of sale prices — everything is marked down, some items by as much as 50 percent.
“We changed our thought process,” said company Vice President Gregg Kelly. “We started doing giveaways and value-added purchases.”
Northeastern derives almost all its revenue from in-store sales in Glens Falls, Guilderland, Manhattan and Schenectady. Online sales account for only about 5 percent of revenue; the web is more important for drawing customers into the store than for making online sales.
People are going to display the jewelry on their bodies, often prominently, so they want to touch it and see it in person before buying it, Kelly explained.
This hasn’t diminished during the pandemic, except of course when the store was shut down.
“For us, business is strong,” Kelly said.
Small Business Saturday plays a part in boosting those in-person sales.
Northeastern expanded its Guilderland and Schenectady stores in recent years, which proved fortuitous in 2020, the year of social distancing. The stores are unlikely to reach their legal limit of 50 occupants, Kelly said, but if they did there would be enough room to space out all those people.
“We’ve always invested into the real estate of the stores,” he said. “We’re lucky enough to have the size [during COVID]. A lot of people are scaling down because they can do things on the phone or computer.”
And the other potential drag on sales during a crisis — shoppers hesitant to make big purchases — hasn’t been an issue so far, Kelly said. People are taking their vacation money and doing other things with it, such as marking life’s moments with a gift of jewelry.
“Our attitude is, let people know you’re smiling through your mask,” he said.
ALL THAT TWINKLES
In Sharon Springs, Beekman 1802 Mercantile is decked out with more than 25,000 tiny mirrors on monofilament lines from the roofline that catch the sun and passing cars’ headlights to create a sparkling effect that matches the Twinkle Twinkle motif inside the store.
“We’ve always tried to do something really magical” for the holidays, Beekman 1802 co-founder Brent Ridge said of the retro-styled store. “We knew we had to do something really special this year.”
Planning began in March for the 2020 holiday season, when the business community had time on its hands.
“We were all closed for almost three months. We were all hopeful things would quiet down over the summer. I knew realistically that it probably wouldn’t,” said Ridge, a physician.
He and husband Josh Kilmer-Purcell gained national attention through their fish-out-of-water reality show “The Fabulous Beekman Boys,” based on the couple’s transition from urban life to a rural Schoharie County farm.
Their line of lifestyle, home decor, skin care and assorted artisanal goods has gained national attention through the company website, QVC and the Home Shopping Network.
Their storefront in Sharon Springs is still a small business, even if the company behind it isn’t so small anymore. But unlike its small neighbors on Main Street, Beekman 1802 Mercantile didn’t face a serious crisis during the COVID shutdown of non-essential businesses — sales via television flourished as sales in Sharon Springs withered.
“We are so blessed and fortunate to have that opportunity,” Ridge said. “During COVID, TV retail has really had an explosion. People were at home but still wanted to shop.”
So what does he hope Small Business Saturday will bring? Attention and visitors to Sharon Springs as much as to the Mercantile. The village has several new businesses and restaurants that opened in recent years and is not very far from the heart of the Capital Region.
“If you’ve got time and you’re not traveling a lot for the holidays, it’s a great little morning or afternoon trip,” Ridge said.
And if somebody wants to wear something with sequins that twinkle twinkle in the light outside the Mercantile on Saturday, even a ball gown, that would be just fine with the Beekman Boys.