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Small businesses join forces to bring in holiday shoppers

Small businesses join forces to bring in holiday shoppers

As the dust raised by frantic Black Friday shoppers settles in malls and big box stores this weekend

As the dust raised by frantic Black Friday shoppers settles in malls and big box stores this weekend, scores of small Capital Region shops will try to jump start their holiday season with Small Business Saturday.

Sandwiched between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Small Business Saturday was started by American Express back in 2010 to raise awareness for local independent shops. It’s a nationwide event, with American Express rewarding their customers for shopping locally, but many area businesses have taken it on in their own way.

Twenty-three Schenectady businesses united this year under the Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corp. to organize their own rewards program. Starting Saturday, shoppers can pick up a pass card at any of the participating stores. As a customer buys local goods, the businesses stamp their total on the card. At $150, the card can be entered to win $250 in downtown gift certificates or Proctors tickets.

The holiday program originated a few years ago as a compliment to Black Friday, but according to DSIC Executive Director Jim Salengo, the two shopping days have very little in common.

“This isn’t meant to get people out of bed at the crack of dawn to go buy the huge flat screen,” he said. “It’s sort of the antithesis of Black Friday. The point is just to stroll around, buy some unique local goods and enjoy the day.”

He also pointed out shopping locally is sort of a guilt-free holiday option, as it helps the area economy.

Last year, the pass cards documented $55,000 in local spending.

“With more people participating this year and Small Business Saturday gaining momentum,” he said, “we hope to at least exceed last year’s total.”

Not all communities are as organized as Schenectady, but many businesses plan to participate independently. To the west, Amsterdam Printing slapped Small Business Saturday logos on 200 mugs, 3,000 pens and as many posters. All are free to local businesses looking to promote their own sales.

While the company worked with American Express to create the products, it footed the bill independently. According to online marketing manager Slavik Volinsky, promoting small business is worth the cost.

“Most of our business comes from other small businesses,” he said, explaining that Amsterdam Printing creates promotional materials for 100,000 companies nationwide. “When they succeed, we succeed.”

The mugs, pens and posters are grouped into promotional kits. A large number were shipped to the Albany Chamber of Commerce for distribution, while businesses in Montgomery County were encouraged to just stop by Amsterdam Printing.

To the south, Schoharie County has also adopted the event, but with a few modifications. Debbie Stalker of the Schoharie County Chamber of Commerce compiled a list of independent shops on the chamber’s website.

She explained that since the county’s main revenue source is agriculture, “people tend to forget about all the things we really have here.”

One doesn’t usually think of rushing out in the days after Thanksgiving to buy vegetables for the holiday season, but Stalker pointed out a few agricultural businesses whose products fit the holiday.

“I don’t drink myself,” she said, “but I hear Schoharie Shine is very good.”

She was referring to a Schoharie’s Kymar Farms Distillery, which has leveraged the buy local movement into an explosive first year of growth.

Ken Wartz triple distills both Schoharie Shine, an unaged moonshine-style whiskey, and Mapple Jack, a maple-apple brandy. They are made exclusively with Schoharie-grown products and are sold in 88 stores across the state.

It may seem an unconventional gift, but Wartz said a bottle of Shine can really spice up the holidays.

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