The Thanksgiving crush will be over. Still, Kirbie’s Meats & Catering co-owner Kris Burns hopes for an uptick in customers going out to shop on Saturday.
The day marks the fourth year for what has been called “Small Business Saturday,” a celebration of independent merchants that is gaining in national attention.
Burns plans to make the day extra festive at his Stow business, cooking up samples of cocktail meatballs, prime rib and spiral-sliced ham for an open house concept. He’s among independent merchants locally and nationwide hoping the day will help boost sales and turn some first-time customers into repeat ones.
“We do notice an increase in business on the day,” said Burns, operator of the 30-year-old family-owned market that employs roughly 10 full- and part-time workers. “I think more and more folks are aware, taking a little extra time to make a separate stop from a large big-box store.”
American Express began Small Business Saturday as its idea to focus attention on small businesses the day after the feverish, heavily promoted Black Friday — when the chain stores roll out lots of deals.
American Express offers a $10 credit to card members who register and then use their cards at local independent businesses on Small Business Saturday. That’s down from earlier years when the credits were $25 per AmEx card.
Many businesses, whether they accept AmEx or not, have embraced the day, with a chunk of them adding to the lure by offering samples and specials. Chambers of commerce — including local organizations such as the Green Chamber — and the National Federation of Independent Businesses help to push the day.
The Gallery 143 shop in Green will offer discounts on various items, including jewelry and pottery, along with food. The shop, in business for about 17 years, carries all American handmade items.
“I think shop[ping] small encourages people to try something new, different. That is us,” said owner Joan Smith, who pointed out that sales support artists, including some area ones, as well as her four part-time workers who, she noted, “live in the community.”
American Express said a survey showed that consumers who were aware of Small Business Saturday spent a total of $5.5 billion with independent merchants on last year’s day. Total spending for Black Friday weekend in 2012 reached an estimated $59.1 billion, according to the National Retail Federation.
The day hasn’t always translated into increased sales.
“That was one of the slowest days I had last year,” lamented June Grismer, co-owner of Grismer’s Christian Gifts & Church Supply, an Akron business for nearly 80 years.
Grismer noted that last year she arranged for extra staff for the day, and will do so again this year. The staff will be spread among Grismer’s three stores in downtown Akron, Stow and Northfield. She’s also planning on offering discounts on various items Saturday.
“I want to be an optimist,” Grismer said. “It’s been a tough year for small businesses in every sense. There’s fewer people shopping and the people that are shopping are spending less ... I’m grateful for my loyal customers.”
The shop offers Bibles, books and a variety of gifts, including nativity scenes, rosaries, indoor and outdoor statues and picture frames.
At Shulan’s jewelry in Fairlawn, third-generation owner John Shulan echoed the comments of some other independent merchants when he said business slowed last month. He blamed the federal government’s temporary shutdown and accompanying economic gloom-and-doom talk.
“That really did a good job of scaring the consumer away,” Shulan said.
He’s hoping Small Business Saturday will help turn the sales trend around, and show those new to the store that while Shulan’s goes back decades, it’s not outdated.
“We’re very progressive. We’re as high-tech as any store can get with our CADCAM-designed [computer-aided] jewelry,” Shulan said. The business has been in the Fairlawn Town Centre since 1960 and originally started in downtown Akron in 1921.
At Thinker Toys in the West Market Plaza in Bath Township, general manager Robert Miller said he’s hoping the day will provide a lift during the shorter shopping season. A late Thanksgiving makes for less than four weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
“That loss of a few days, it doesn’t seem that big but it definitely affects a lot of small businesses,” he said.
His 19-year-old store offers a large selection of board games, Playmobil sets, arts and craft projects and stuffed animals, among other toys.
In Barberton and Medina, merchants are combining annual holiday celebrations with Small Business Saturday. In Barberton, the city’s Christmas walk and the lighting of Lake Anna Park will be on Saturday from 4 to 9 p.m. (Information is online at www.cityofbarberton.com.)
In Medina, Small Business Saturday will be a part of the city’s Holiday Spectacular. (Go online to www.mainstreetmedina.com.)
Football and politics
Matt Wiederhold, executive director of Main Street Medina, which promotes the city’s historic district, said the day has some tough competition — beginning at noon in the form of a “major Ohio State football game [OSU vs. Michigan].”
Some shops in the historic district will open earlier Saturday, he noted, and some will offer free gift wrapping.
But, he said, he realized last year, “it’s hard to compete with that game.”
This year, the day also has a tinge of politics. National advocacy group Main Street Alliance sponsored a news conference Tuesday to “denounce the hypocrisy” of American Express championing small businesses while charging “the credit card industry’s highest ‘swipe fees’ ”
The group encouraged consumers to support small businesses this holiday season by shopping locally and paying for their purchases with cash.
Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781 or firstname.lastname@example.org.