SCHENECTADY — Municipal and business leaders appealed Tuesday for area residents to support their local merchants this weekend even as mass-market and big-box retailers bombard them with holiday shopping promotions.
The campaign is called Small Business Saturday, and at a news conference in City Hall, Mayor Gary McCarthy noted a key distinction between it and Black Friday: The money spent at locally owned stores stays in and benefits the community.
Small Business Saturday was begun in 2010 by American Express and has grown every year since, said Jim Salengo, executive director of the Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corporation.
He offered some statistics from the 2016 edition of Small Business Saturday to show its impact: 6,700 small businesses signed up as neighborhood champions, 112 million people visited at least one small business and shoppers spent $15.4 billion in total at small businesses.
Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, said this Saturday is a good time for people to explore the commercial landscape in and around their hometowns and rediscover the locally owned businesses that help form a community’s identity. With multigenerational ownership and products not available elsewhere, he said, small businesses are often unique.
“It doesn’t have to end there,” he added — local shops remain good places to shop throughout the holiday season and beyond, not just on Small Business Saturday. “These are local jobs we’re talking about. ... Shop small, stay local.”
Capital Region Chamber CEO Mark Eagan said small businesses are a key part of the fabric of the whole community, not just a business community: Their names are the ones on Little League players' jerseys, their donated products and services are featured in silent auctions and countless other fundraisers.
“We encourage you for the whole year to try and keep those folks in mind,” he said. “Always remember the role these businesses play to strengthen the real economic and social well-being of our community.”
Jay Street Business Association President Richard Mare said the merchants are entering their busiest season. They’re looking forward to Small Business Saturday and — new this year — a holiday bazaar Dec. 9 and 10 in heated tents on the pedestrian-only stretch of Jay Street.
Jenn Dugan, owner of one of the newest small businesses downtown — The Makeup Curio on State Street — said her shop’s blend of theatrical and beauty products and services is unique in the Capital Region if not upstate New York. Many other small businesses also occupy a unique niche in their communities, she said, not just for their goods and services but for the atmosphere within them.
“We are the people who care about our customers,” she said. “You become our family and that’s really important.”
McCarthy said Small Business Saturday is one more way to boost retail growth, which often comes on the tail end of the revitalization of a district or neighborhood. “We’re seeing an interest in downtown that we haven’t seen in a long time,” he said.
Upper Union Street is doing well and has been for years, the mayor said. Following to varying degrees are outlying business districts such as Eastern Avenue and other parts of State Street. It’s an ongoing process, he said, and not as fast as everyone might hope.