Big crowds, long lines and Black Friday sales at many big-box stores throughout the area have welcomed the holiday shopping season, but many locally owned businesses are hoping shoppers will think small this weekend.
Small Business Saturday, an initiative created in 2010 and promoted by American Express, bridges the gap between Black Friday and Cyber Monday as a way to help drive traffic toward local businesses, which are the “backbone of the economy,” according to Jill Estavillo, economic development manager for the City of Hagerstown.
Paul Jankowski, an author and chief strategist for Nashville, Tenn.-based Access Brand Strategies, said small businesses build the fabric of communities and create roughly half of the nation’s gross domestic product.
“When you use small business and community in the same sentence, that’s the answer because small business is the thread that holds the community together,” Jankowski said. “If we went all corporate and took out the nuances and personality and characteristics of small business, our communities would be void of heart.”
To help promote the event locally, Hagerstown is offering any shopper who spends at least $20 at a small business in the city a chance to win $100 in City Center Dollars.
Between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Saturday, people can take their receipts to the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau office near Public Square and be entered into a drawing to win one of the city’s three $100 prizes, which can be redeemed at City Center businesses, Estavillo said.
“It’s a different chance to enjoy dining downtown as compared to trying to buy the best electronic gadget at a big-box store,” she said. “And with the city’s emphasis on downtown, we really encourage people to enjoy time with friends and family, grab a bite to eat and a chance to win.”
The pride of small business in Washington County is being able to offer personalized, caring service as well as products that shoppers won’t readily find in big-box stores, according to some shop owners.
Small Business Saturday will be mostly business as usual for Carolee Bartell at Odyssey Gifts in Williamsport. The store owner said she isn’t running any special sales for the event, but is eager to help people find that one-of-a-kind holiday gift that they wouldn’t be able to find elsewhere.
“I believe in small businesses. Shopping should be fun,” Bartell said. “It’s something that’s a lost art. People are forgetting what it’s like to go into a store and find a treasure that they can’t find anywhere else.”
Odyssey — known more as a “destination store,” Bartell said — carries numerous unique items, such as jewelry, pewter and dragon-, gargoyle- and fairy-themed sculptures.
“A gift is supposed to be something from the heart, something that is part of yourself when you’re giving a gift,” she said. “It’s not just to give for the sake of buying something.”
In Funkstown, Denny Warrenfeltz, owner of Rooster Vane Gardens, said he expects customers to stop in “here and there,” but said the Thanksgiving season was very busy this year.
The shop is a full-service florist, but also carries antiques, collectibles and numerous types of decorative holiday items in a variety of price ranges, he said.
“Most of our things are custom-made and unique things that you aren’t going to find at big-box stores,” Warrenfeltz said, adding that the town’s Old Tyme Christmas event often brings in large crowds. This year, it takes place Dec. 7.
Two antique dealers along U.S. 40 east of Hagerstown, Beaver Creek Antiques and Antiques Crossroads, looked busy Friday afternoon, with both parking lots packed with cars.
A few more miles down the road, Natoma Vargason, manager of Gifts Inn Boonsboro, said shopping locally offers more fun for people because there is “no rush” like might be seen in many big-box retailers.
In a store that offers many unique pieces of art by local and regional artists plus other types of personalized gifts, Vargason said she enjoys getting to know her customers and building relationships.
“We get the time to actually talk to people and find out what they’re looking for, and maybe offer them ideas — something that they wouldn’t have necessarily thought of, but we can steer them in the direction that could be interesting for their recipient,” she said. “A lot of the things you’re going to find here are one-of-a-kind and not going to be duplicated.”
Last year, American Express estimated that 103 million Americans shopped at small, local businesses on the Saturday following Thanksgiving, showing a commitment from communities to support their local establishments, Jankowski said.
“I think small business truly is the heart of our communities because small business consists of deep family ties, leading to community ties, so small business owners are connected to the community on several levels,” he said. “I think that’s the key.”
If you go ...
What: Shop Small and Win City Center Dollars
Where: City of Hagerstown
When: Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
How: Shoppers who present a receipt of $20 or more at any small business in the city will be entered into a drawing to win one of three $100 City Center Dollars prizes. Receipts must be taken to the Hagerstown-Washington Co. Convention and Visitors Bureau office near Public Square to enter.