Delaware merchants report strong sales from Small Business Saturday

By Roger Morris
Special to Delaware Business Times

According to a weekend survey, 104 million U.S. consumers spent $17.8 billion at small, independently owned businesses across the country during this past weekend’s Small Business Saturday (SBS). Although there is no state-by-state breakdown, Delaware merchants report that Saturday’s bump helped raise their bottom lines.

“In spite of the afternoon rain, we did pretty well – I was pleased with the results,” said Marilyn Dickey, owner of GrassRoots, an apparel and gift store in Newark. As a special promotion, GrassRoots featured a further 20% discount on all sale items and offered a $10 voucher for every $50 spent in the store during the day.

Terry Peach, proprietor of A Marblehead Flyfisher in Centreville, said that after a slow morning start, “the rest of the day amped up nicely – a bunch of service-related business at the end of the day, and I saw as many new faces as regulars.” He also pointed out that some small-business customers started spending early, giving small businesses a Black Friday bonus.

“Yesterday was a bang-up day,” Peach reported on Saturday morning.

Black Friday evolved from a little-known economic fact of life – that many Americans habitually did major holiday shopping the day after Thanksgiving which put businesses in the “black” – into a retailing do-or-die juggernaut that caused frenzied bargain-hunters to break store windows and fight over merchandise. Small Business Saturday, by contrast, traces its roots to a 2010 decision by the America Express card company to encourage consumers to not do all their shopping at big box stores and national chain stores.

The Small Business Administration and local Chambers of Commerce have also become very involved. Roxane Ferguson, executive director of the Middletown Area Chamber of Commerce, said that shops in Middletown’s traditional downtown area had geared up for the event and were promoting it on social media.

“That includes stores along the Main Street area such as First & Little, Red Geranium and Something Borrowed,” Ferguson noted.

Before the event, Red Geranium posted a sign on Facebook that said, “Friends Don’t Let Friends Shop at Chain Stores,” and, after SBS was over, added the note: “Thank you to everyone that came out today and shopped small. The weather had us worried, but you all came anyway. Thanks a million for your support!”

Centreville gave its Small Business Saturday a local touch by dubbing the day “A Centreville Winter Stroll,” which was promoted in advance. Among the planned activities were carolers and a strolling Santa, street-side sales of baked goods and seasonal garlands, a tree-lighting ceremony and the playing of the First State Symphonic Band. Participating merchants also gave out event “passports” with one winning passport shopper getting a $200 gift certificate for their favorite Centreville shop.

“The point is that Small Business Saturday keeps money in the community and helps local businesses continue to serve the local community,” said Linda Collier of Collier’s of Centreville wine shop, where she had just celebrated her 37th year in business.

Dan Butler, the chef/owner of Picolina Toscana in Wilmington, said, “We participate and we promote the event. It’s hard for local mom and pop stores to compete with internet shopping and the big box stores. I’m glad that American Express has gotten involved.”

American Express has also extended its promotion of small businesses beyond the last Saturday in November.

“What began nine years ago as an effort to support local stores during the holiday shopping season has become the Shop Small movement, bringing together millions of shoppers, small businesses of all kinds, civic leaders and organizations in thousands of towns and cities across the country,” said Elizabeth Rutledge, chief marketing officer at American Express in a promotional press release. “Shopping small has a significant and positive effect on local communities, and we hope Small Business Saturday will help to amplify that effect during the crucial holiday shopping season.”

The American Express study shows that 67¢ of every dollar spent at a small business remains in the local community.

“What we small businesses sell is ‘service’ and always being there when someone needs us,” Peach said. “When someone comes in to my store and asks me where to go fishing that weekend, I spend time with them, whether they are buying anything at the moment or not.”

Peach also said that small business owners generally remain loyal to each other.

“When the local hardware store moved locations, I just changed my route coming to work to shop there,” he said.

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