Small Business Saturday: Shop Small, Shop Local
August 18, 2017|
By Blair Dowler
Long lines and chaos are hallmarks of the holiday season starting late on Thanksgiving night with the madness that is Black Friday. Shoppers wait hours outside of box stores to purchase smart TVs and iPads at discounted prices. However, in small towns across West Virginia, the true sentiment of the holiday season is brought to life on Small Business Saturday. Downtowns light up, locals venture out to find thoughtful and heartfelt gifts for loved ones, and small business owners welcome shoppers with open arms.
On this day of shopping, traditionally held the day after Black Friday, attendees help support and grow the local economy. In 2010, American Express launched Small Business Saturday with that goal in mind. By 2016, shoppers reported spending $15.4 billion at independent retailers and restaurants on Small Business Saturday.
Small Business Saturday is catching on across the Mountain State, and six cities—Beckley, Charleston, Martinsburg, Morgantown, Parkersburg and Wheeling—are avid participants in the now annual event. The cities string lights, decorate holiday trees and execute major events in their historic downtown areas around the day to encourage their citizens to shop small and continue to build the local and state economic landscape.
The Downtown Beckley Business Association (DBBA) hosted their first Shop Small Saturday event in 2016, and it was an instant success. With the idea of downtown revitalization in mind, the DBBA transformed the town into a one-day retail superstore. Organizers, which include the New River Gorge Regional Development Authority and West Virginia State University Extension Agent Christine Kinder, worked with 35 vendors and two property owners to house pop-up shops in vacant buildings.
Local artists, food vendors and direct sales entrepreneurs set up shop, and musicians entertained the crowd of more than 1,000 holiday shoppers. In addition to these vendors, current local retail businesses like Tickety Boo Mercantile and The Consignment Company also participated in the event, driving foot traffic to downtown Beckley.
According to Kinder, participating businesses reported having a successful day, and plans for the 2017 event are underway.
“One of the vacant properties that participated is currently undergoing renovation and will be opening soon as a multi-use space,” says Kinder. “It’s exciting to see positive outcomes from our shop small event and encouraging for our downtown revitalization efforts.”
Each year, the Charleston Area Alliance and its member businesses go above and beyond for Small Business Saturday, the purpose of which is to shine the spotlight on the small retailers in their neighborhood and do what they can to help them during the holidays.
“We did a fashion show one Saturday. We closed down one of the streets in downtown Charleston, and a lot of the small retailers worked together to create the show and a reason for people to come downtown and shop,” says Lesli Forbes, vice president of marketing and development for the Charleston Area Alliance. “One year, we did a small business passport. We listed all of the participating businesses, and shoppers went to each location to receive a stamp. Then, they were entered for a chance to win a prize.”
This year, while the Charleston Area Alliance is thinking of revisiting the fashion show or passport event, the holiday shopping will actually kick off Friday evening with the Downtown Charleston Artwalk.
“People are thinking about holiday shopping at that point,” says Forbes. “They are wanting to get out. They are wanting to find unique gifts from local retailers for the holiday season. And then Saturday morning rolls around, and I think people are still feeling the same way. The event and the uniqueness of each business really resonates with people during the holidays.”
Main Street Martinsburg capitalized on Small Business Saturday early in the game. In the past, the local day of shopping was based around the Christmas Parade. After an evening of family fun and a chance to visit with Santa Claus, downtown shops and restaurants would open up for an evening of shopping and dining. For 2017, the traditional parade has moved to another weekend, but Small Business Saturday promises to be the same success as in years past.
Businesses in the area go all out for the event with decorations, specials and extensive promotions. The most notable is always Flowers Unlimited on Queens Street, as they are known for their elaborately decorated windows, which always garner a large crowd. Small Business Saturday will also kick off the town’s annual Doors to Christmas, where local businesses decorate beautiful wreaths that will adorn the antique doors of the Shenandoah Hotel and be auctioned off live.
Randy Lewis, the executive director of Main Street Martinsburg, says small businesses are really the backbone of the Martinsburg community, and Small Business Saturday builds pride around these businesses.
“Small business is where it’s at because it’s so much more personal,” he says. “Small Business Saturday really brings collaboration among the local businesses, and it gives a jump-start to the holiday season.”
On Small Business Saturday, Morgantown’s residents get into the holiday spirit as they listen to live music on the courthouse square, and children’s eyes light up when they see Mr. and Mrs. Claus, whose visit is sponsored by the Greater Morgantown Convention and Visitors Bureau.
High Street glistens with a beautiful Christmas tree, and food vendors warm shoppers from the inside out, selling soups and hot chocolate.
“When you shop in any downtown or small, local business, the majority of your dollars stay locally, and that’s a big reason we participate in Small Business Saturday,” says Barbara Watkins, assistant director of Main Street Morgantown. “Main Street’s mission is for the economic development of the downtown. All of our events are meant to attract new small businesses into our historic downtown.”
For this year’s Small Business Saturday, shoppers have the opportunity to win one of four downtown gift baskets. All of the items in the baskets, which are valued between $400-500, are donated from the small local shops in town.
Each year, Downtown PKB orders the American Express Small Business Saturday event kit and launches into planning with Parkersburg’s downtown merchants. Wendy Shriver, executive director of Downtown PKB, says with the organization’s advertising and marketing power, the event brings awareness to the fact that there are new businesses opening downtown.
“We had eight new businesses in downtown last year, and we’ve already had six open this year and more planning to open,” she says. “There is definitely an interest in people developing and moving their business to the downtown because of the uniqueness of the downtown and the historic buildings. It’s that feeling of quaintness in a downtown as opposed to shopping in big box stores or the conventional mall setting.”
Santa’s helpers can find the perfect trinket for kids with sales at Classic Plastics Toy Store on Market Street. Point Park Marketplace, which is essentially an incubator for small businesses, holds a small taste of the market event while also welcoming in smaller vendors like Wildtree, Avon and Tupperware with hopes of promoting those businesses and other ventures.
In downtown Wheeling, Small Business Saturday commences the town’s annual Boutique Week, which is sponsored by the Wheeling Area Chamber of Commerce.
For the event, shoppers receive a passport with a variety of the chamber’s small business members. When they spend $25 at each of these retailers, their passport is stamped. At the end of Boutique Week, shoppers submit their passports, and the person with the most stamps wins a prize—gift certificates to continue holiday shopping at these local Wheeling shops.
Erikka Storch, president of the Wheeling Area Chamber of Commerce, says the Wheeling area is lucky when it comes to the small business vibe of the town. From Hughes Design and Gift Gallery to Accents to Nini’s Treasures, many of the city’s small businesses embrace the idea of Boutique Week.
“Small Business Saturday and events like this are very important because all the growth these businesses see is achieved through the continual reinvestment of the shoppers choosing to shop at those locations,” says Storch. “It is a great opportunity to interact and show our local business owners that we support their dreams.”