Small Business Saturday means big sales for local merchants

December 10, 2012

In 2009, Community Forklift introduced “Green Friday” as an alternative holiday shopping experience for what Outreach Director Ruthie Mundell calls “not your typical big-box-stand-in-line-for-plastic-junk-imported-from- China [inventory]." It has since expanded into a six-week Green Gift Fair. Photo by Scarlett Salem (December 2013).

In 2009, Community Forklift introduced “Green Friday” as an alternative holiday shopping experience for what Outreach Director Ruthie Mundell calls “not your typical big-box-stand-in-line-for-plastic-junk-imported-from- China [inventory].” It has since expanded into a six-week Green Gift Fair. Photo by Scarlett Salem (December 2013).

 

BY ROSANNA LANDIS WEAVER — Black Friday gets all the press: the overnight campouts, the overeager bargain hunters, the advertising budgets.  For the past few years another tradition has been growing: Small Business Saturday.

In 2010 American Express began an annual promotion that allows qualifying small businesses to apply, and offers card members a $25 rebate if they spend over $25 at a participating store on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. But the promotion has expanded beyond that, and business was booming for local stores at this year’s event.

Dozens of Hyattsville stores participated in the November 24 program, including over 30 in the Mall at Prince Georges.

“We’ve been slammed,” says Barbara Robey at A Tangled Skein, in downtown Hyattsville. This year’s event coincided with the store’s annual birthday sale, drawing eager knitters who were counting down the days to the holiday.

“You have to think ahead when you’re doing a knitting project,” notes Robey.

“No better day to do this than Small Business Saturday,” said customer Sharon Doughty as she checked out. The Bowie shopper was making a day of it in Hyattsville; in addition to browsing local shops (including Franklins, whose 20th anniversary celebration was also Saturday), she’d enjoyed lunch at Busboys & Poets.

Business was also brisk at The Big Bad Woof, which participated for the first time this year. “It’s hard to compete against the blowouts” of Black Friday, notes owner Pennye Jones-Napier.  “This started as an opportunity with American Express to express the sentiment that small business is what makes up the fabric of community. We’re pleased to tangibly participate in that process.”

This was also the first year for Carolina Kitchen Bar & Grill, in University Town Center. Operating partner Cathy Nelson says they will “absolutely” be participating again next year.

“Typically, right after Thanksgiving is pretty slow,” she said. “The numbers are definitely better than last year.”

in 2009, a year before the American Express campaign, Community Forklift introduced “Green Friday” as an alternative holiday shopping experience. The store specializes in low-cost building materials and vintage home improvement supplies — or, as Marketing and Outreach Director Ruthie Mundell notes, “not your typical big-box-stand-in-line-for-plastic-junk-imported-from-China [inventory].”

The idea has expanded into a three-day event, complete with free hot cider, sale prices, a DJ and hands-on workshops, including one on decoupaging picture frames.

Mundell reports that the store was swamped both on Friday and Saturday. “It caught us by surprise. It’s never been this busy.”

Weekend workshops will continue throughout the month, along with a gift fair featuring the work of 27 artisans.  (Just don’t bring your American Express card — it’s no good here.)

The holiday shopping season has been particularly important to Community Forklift, because in its first years business fell dramatically over the colder months, whether because the large unheated warehouse was too chilly for customers or because the do-it-yourselfers and small contractors who make up a good portion of the clientele were not doing the same number of projects.

The post-Thanksgiving shopping weekend “supports artists and keeps bringing customers in the door,” and the revenue bump in November and December helps carry the store through the rest of the winter months.

“A big part of our mission is generating local economic activity,” said Mundell. “Helping artisans and tradespeople helps us.”