Local business owners were hoping to hear more creaking doors and chiming bells than usual on Saturday, a sure sign that the heavy promotion for Small Business Saturday was having an effect on consumers.
While the American Express-created shopping holiday doesn’t cause the mania that Black Friday or Cyber Monday does, local business owners say it is picking up steam slowly but surely.
Greg Rowe looked at the spices, salts and specialty items lining the shelves of Bel Cibo Fine Gourmet Foods & Spices Saturday on Jay Street. His fiancée Laura Khoury fingered a glass jar marked “fleur de sel.”
“I actually didn’t know this place was here,” said Khoury, 29, of Cohoes.
She points to a beer microbrew she might get for her father, but admits she’s doing a little bit of holiday shopping for herself Saturday.
Rowe, 29, said they both try to shop at local small businesses as much as they can. They plan to get married at Glen Sanders Mansion in Scotia and thought it would be nice to check out the shops in the Schenectady area.
“We have a lot of small shops in Troy,” said Rowe, 29. “Clifton Park also has a lot of good, small shops. We try to do it as much as possible, but now that American Express has the promotion it’s just another incentive to get out. There’s more character at these places than anywhere else.”
In its third year, Small Business Saturday is gaining momentum across many American communities that are still struggling in the current economic tide. Last year, more than 100 million people shopped small in their communities on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. The idea that to buy local is to grow the local economy isn’t a new one, but it’s become much more publicized in the past several years.
Schenectady, Albany, Troy and other communities across the Capital Region have promoted the event through their chambers, business improvement districts and social media.
Business proprietors said there wasn’t a rush on their stores, but they were definitely seeing a word-of-mouth buzz about the event that resulted in a few more walk-ins than usual.
Bel Cibo owner Jeanette Massaro and her fellow Jay Street shop owners in Schenectady heard their front doors jangle more than usual Saturday.
“We’ve had a couple people come in and purchase some of our specialty items,” she said. “Much more than last year, it seems like people have become much more into the idea of shopping small. People realize they need to shop locally to help the economy.”
They don’t have ultra cheap big-screen TVs for sale, but small businesses have the charm, quirks and items shoppers typically won’t find at the mass retailers.
“We struggle because we’re small and we can’t offer the grand discounts that they offer,” said Massaro. “So we just have to offer a quality product at a quality price. Our products are different. They’re unusual or they’re hard to find. We have small batch artisan food that you can’t find anywhere else.”
Entire store discounts are more typical of national retailers, but a handful of small Albany businesses like Season’s Skate Shop and Romeo’s Gifts deployed storewide discounts for Small Business Saturday.
The Lark Street Business Improvement District coordinated the promotions for the weekend event, urging Capital Region residents to spur business for the creative entrepreneurs along the city’s “Main Street.”
“Lark Street provides a unique shopping experience for all ages,” said Meghan McGrath, director of operations for the Lark Street BID. “Instead of going to the mall to get a typical gift, come down to Lark Street to get the perfect unique gift for your loved one. They will be happy you did and Small Business Saturday is all about supporting your community and allowing the local economy to grow.”
Mike Casey looks up when someone jangles their way into his Jay Street shop.
The 33-year-old co-owner of Zaria and Bella’s smiles from behind the register, which is lined with shiny holiday ornaments and a surprising number of mermaid figurines.
“We actually do very well with our mermaids,” he laughs. “I try to be different and I try to carry things that you don’t find at many other stores, like my Willow Tree sculptures.”
Zaria and Bella’s is still a relatively new business, having opened about a year ago and relocated to its current space in just the last month. The shop has a few buy-one-get-one-half-off sales on its jewelry this holiday season.
Casey has a pretty good eye for trends.
This holiday season, people want to buy American-made products that are eco-friendly, he said.
“More people are leaning toward those types of products,” he said. “So I’m trying to go more that route. I have 95 percent recycled plastic shopping bags here. I have an entire children’s line back here that is all lead-free and BPA-free and in recycled packaging. That’s a big draw for people.”
The Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corp. helped organize this year’s Small Business Saturday event, inviting residents to visit the shops, restaurants and attractions downtown.
One of the promotions was a Holiday Shopping Pass card, available at one of nearly two-dozen downtown locations.
When someone fills up a card with $150 worth of purchases, they can be entered to win a $250 downtown shopping spree or a pair of tickets to a Proctors performance.
Richard Mare, owner of Downtown Designs, doesn’t really worry about the competition from larger retailers this time of year.
He describes his shop as an eclectic mix of new, vintage and custom-made items. There’s long black 1920s gowns and modern day kitchenware.
“I think our clientele is much more specific,” he said, over the rhythmic hums of “Little Drummer Boy” playing on a radio in his Jay Street shop. “They’re looking for those more specialized items. They’re not looking for the usual items you’ll get in a big box store.”