Independent retailers, too, get a jump-start on the holiday rush

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Posted: Friday, November 29, 2013 12:00 am

The owner of All About Me, a women's apparel shop in the Old Market, took a hint this year from the big chain stores and began offering Small Business Saturday discounts four days ago.

Small Business Saturday is Saturday, but owner Cindy Hoover's attitude is — why wait?

“Everything is starting early — so can we!” Hoover said.

Rose Nied, owner of Magpie: Gifts for the Nest at Rockbrook Village, began prepping the store well in advance of Small Business Saturday, spending 11 hours arranging a holiday window display to showcase the store's wares and, she hopes, draw shoppers in the door before Saturday, on Saturday and beyond.

“People come here to support the smaller stores,” said Nied, who joined the merchants at Rockbrook, 108th Street and West Center Road, about three months ago.

Small and medium-size businesses often depend on holiday purchases to keep their doors open year-round. The holidays can account for up to 40 percent of their annual sales. Recognizing that, American Express founded Small Business Saturday in 2010 to help boost bottom lines.

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The financial services company distributes free banners, doormats and shopping bags to small businesses that request them on their website. The company says about 70 percent of independent merchants expect Small Business Saturday to attract new customers.

Last year, consumers spent about $5.5billion on Small Business Saturday, according to estimates by American Express, which measured spending for the first time in 2012.

Not to be outdone by the big chain and department stores, just about one-third of small retailers began preparing for the holiday rush earlier this year “beginning on or before Thanksgiving,” according to a survey by Ink from Chase, a subsidiary of JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Last Monday, All About Me began offering 30 percent off all tops, or 50 percent off the entire sales ticket if you bought a top and bottom. “We decided we would start some stuff earlier to kick it off,” said Hoover, referring to Small Business Saturday.

Blue Pomegranate Gallery in Benson, which sells American-made arts and crafts, began preparations even earlier. “We do kick off our holiday season the first Friday in November because we have all hand-made American ornaments,” said Stephanie Heller Durr, the store's manager.

Heller Durr filled out the Small Business Saturday form on American Express' website and received a free 4-foot-by-6-foot banner advertising the shopping day, along with shopping bags, pens and 20 welcome mats that read “Welcome to the Neighborhood. Shop Small.”

“It was amazing,” said Heller Durr, who distributed the bounty among other merchants.

“We'll sign up again next year,” she said. “We understand that competing with the big stores is tough and we love that we have loyal customers.”

Bob Hallstrom, Nebraska state director for the National Federation of Independent Business, is urging more people to shop small: “These pillars of the communities feed the families of their employees on the thinnest of profit margins, so any little boost they receive, tens of thousands of others benefit from.”

Classic Golf, at 60th Street and Woolworth Avenue near Elmwood Park, is one example of what happens when customers do their shopping at small businesses. “We went from two employees to six employees in a year's time,” said owner Tony Tubrick, who took over the business more than a year ago.

Between 1993 and 2011, small firms accounted for 64 percent of the net new jobs that were created, and paid nearly 43 percent of the total U.S. private payroll, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Tubrick, who is offering special discounts today and Saturday, has been giving customers who shopped earlier this month the Small Business Saturday price. Classic Golf is offering discounts of up to 50 percent on some golf sets Saturday.

When consumers shop local businesses, more than 50 percent of the money stays in the community, according to various studies.

“On a dollar-for-dollar basis, the local economic impact of independently owned businesses is significantly greater than that of national chains,” concluded a study by the Maine Center for Economic Policy. In one community studied, every $100 spent at locally owned businesses contributed an additional $58 to the local economy compared with chain stores that contribute $33, the report says. Other studies have concluded the dollar contribution is less than $20 for chain businesses.

Other benefits of supporting local businesses include preserving one-of-a-kind businesses, job creation and competition. “A marketplace of tens of thousands of small businesses is the best way to ensure innovation and low prices over the long term,” according to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

And frequenting small businesses is one way to find one-of-a-kind products and gifts.

Nied's Rockbrook store features, for example, Alessi products from Italy, Israeli jewelry by designers Mariana and Ayala Bar and art glass, including some rare pieces by Michael and Frances Higgins, and other gifts.

“I think we all look for things that are more unique,” Nied said.

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