Since he was a young boy, Bob Smith has felt the joy and experienced the magic of model trains.
“It’s my passion,” he said Monday. “It’s my hobby and my passion, and I’m lucky enough to work with it everyday.”
Smith owns the Mohawk Valley Railroad Co., a model train dealer and store located on Hamburg Street in Rotterdam.
The local small business is the only of its kind in a 200-mile radius, Smith said.
“At businesses like this, you get a unique attention and service you won’t find in a major store,” Smith said. “It’s a niche market. It might be a child’s first Christmas train or a train for a hobbyist who’s enjoyed trains for years, but products like this are special.”
On Monday morning, a group gathered in the back of Smith’s shop, where three model trains chug along a mountainous track with replicas of local landmarks, to promote Small Business Saturday, which takes place this Saturday.
Small Business Saturday was recognized in 2010, and encourages people to do their holiday shopping at local, small businesses in their communities.
Small Business Saturday takes place the Saturday after Thanksgiving. It follows Black Friday and precedes Cyber Monday.
Last year, 88 million people made a commitment to shop at small businesses, according to Forbes.
Shoppers spent $14.3 billion at small, locally-owned establishments on Small Business Saturday last year.
Smith welcomed Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, Scott Osswald with the Capital Region Chamber of Commerce and Frank DePalma Jr., of DePalma’s Screen Printing & Embroidery, at his shop Monday morning.
Each took turns speaking about the importance of remembering small businesses during the holiday season.
“Small business is the key to the community,” Smith said. “I have customers come from all over, and it’s vital we keep the tradition of small shops alive.”
Osswald said the chamber values small businesses and what they offer.
“Small business plays a significant part, not just in the towns and communities they’re a part of, but the region as a whole,” Osswald said. “They offer a uniqueness and an expertise in their product, and what they offer is special.”
“Small businesses are an investment,” Santabarbara said. “They make up a majority of the state’s workforce, and the owners just don’t sell their products — they know them like the back of their hands. You can’t find quality service and products like this just anywhere.”
Frank DePalma Sr. and his son, Frank DePalma Jr., run their family business, DePalma’s Screen Printing & Embroidery, across the street from Mohawk Valley Railroad.
“My father started this printing business in 1977,” Frank Jr. said. “Through good times and bad, the local community support has been vital to us.”
DePalma’s prints and embroiders logos on shirts, hats and uniforms for local sports teams, businesses and organizations and more. The business also personalizes the trophies sports teams often hand out at the end of the season.
Frank Jr. said the shop cranks out as many as 500 shirts a day, with fewer than 10 employees.
“We printed the shirts my son wore when he was in Little League,” Frank Jr. recalled with a smile. “It’s satisfying to see the things we make being used around town bringing joy to people.”
“When you come in here, you can see and touch what you buy before you buy it,” as opposed to an online service, Frank Sr. said. “Here, we offer you the attention and a quality you wouldn’t get from ordering online — here, you get to discuss your order with us face-to-face.”
Gurchran Singh, an employee at Markanda Grocery, also located on Hamburg Street, said it’s difficult to compete with major chain grocery stores like Price Chopper or Shop Rite.
“It’s hard,” he said. “I often can’t compete with their selection. I don’t know if Small Business Saturday will draw more customers, but I can only hope.”
On Saturday, every item for sale at Mohawk Valley Railroad will be 10 percent off, and orders made at DePalma’s will be 10 percent off, too, the owners said.
“I make sure to shop local whenever I can, and support my fellow small-business owners,” Smith said. “As a community, that’s what we do. We hold each other up, and keep each other standing.”