Downtown retailers prepare for a busy Small Business Saturday event on November 25th
Kutztown, PA – Since 2010, the Saturday immediately following Thanksgiving has been increasingly known as “Small Business Saturday.” Originally conceived and promoted by American Express, the shopping holiday has been embraced by independent shops to highlight the value of patronizing local businesses.
Small Business Saturday will be held on November 25th this year, and many area groups in Northeast Berks and throughout Berks County are organizing and promoting this shopping tradition.
Downtown Kutztown businesses tend to see the holidays as both an opportunity and a challenge. Stores are preparing not only to hopefully boost their sales at the end of the year, but to also connect with many more customers who may be shopping with them for the first time.
Spearheading the efforts in downtown Kutztown are the Northeast Berks Chamber of Commerce (NBCC), the Kutztown Community Partnership (KCP), and several of the downtown businesses.
As Neighborhood Champions, NBCC, KCP, and the downtown retailers are coordinating the distribution of promotional material for this year’s Small Business Saturday. Canvas shopping bags containing special offers from the downtown shops will be distributed to participating retailers for customers.
This type of efforts boosts visibility and has increased the success of the program each year since its inception. In 2016, over 112 million shoppers made purchases at local businesses nationwide, spending over $15 billion.
Surveys in 2016 by American Express showed that 72% of customers were aware of the shopping holiday. This is due in part to efforts of “Neighborhood Champions” who help to organize and promote the popular Small Business initiative. Nationwide, there were over 6,700 individuals and organizations working to promote local businesses in 2016, a 63% increase from the previous year.
Locally, Kutztown’s businesses recognize that joining in these events is more than just about commerce, but also about community. Jerry Schearer, KCP President, observed, “It’s truly a great place to walk around on a Saturday. So many small shops and unique merchandise that you never even thought would be in Kutztown.”
Matthew Williams of Firefly Bookstore spoke about the strong connection with local residents. “They are enthusiastic about supporting the stores they frequent. Our regulars know us and know the level of personal service we provide all year long. This season is an opportunity to showcase that to new patrons.”
Firefly Bookstore is one of many shops preparing for the season. “We have more books, games, toys, calendars and cards than last year. We’re really looking forward to finding the right gift for everyone,” said Williams.
Some businesses have special sales planned. Caecilia Holt of Young Ones Records is looking forward to another busy post-Thanksgiving weekend. They are participating in the 10th annual Record Store Day Black Friday, which is a day of limited edition releases which are exclusive to independent record stores. “Record Store Day always spills into that Saturday with special items and sales,” Holt said.
Some owners suggested that there was a larger benefit to shopping locally. “Supporting the small businesses in the community strengthens the community. While we may not be able to compete in advertising compared with large companies, we often can provide the same products and services.” said Val Meyer of J.A. Meyer Fine Jewelry.
For others, Shopping Local is about building relationships. Sarah Collins of Second Nature explains, “It is as much benefit socially and interpersonally as it is economically. Developing a relationship with locals and local businesses allows for a community to flourish. We feel investing locally is investing in one’s community.”
For many customers, Small Business Saturday is indeed good for them. Dr. Andrew Arnold, Chair of the History Department at Kutztown University, regards shopping at the local downtown businesses a key part of the holidays for him and his family.
“We know the business and the business owners,” Dr. Arnold says. “They know our family, and know our interests. This is the kind of relationship that’s not possible anywhere else but at a local business.”
So what do local businesses think is great about shopping local for gift ideas? “Many of the gift items that we sell in our wine store in Kutztown are made locally, including our crackers, candy, soy candles and other gifts.” says Jan Landis of Vynecrest Winery “We encourage others to shop local as well.”
Others note that local independent business are more likely to have unique items that customers look forward to giving as gifts. Chad Schlegel of Althea’s Imaginarium believes that what his shop offers will connect with and impress customers, saying “You can’t find unique and different in a big chain store. Shopping mom and pop stores is where you find the good stuff!”
Joanne Lapic, owner of Paisley & Company is enthusiastic about encouraging local shopping. “Shopping local is a win-win on so many levels. Independent retailers individually curate every product they offer, so their choices are unique, unusual, and better quality than chain stores.”
Lapic believes there are other benefits to local shopping. “When you support independents you are providing jobs, keeping business taxes local, developing relationships and fostering a local culture. Stores become a part of a community’s life.”
Other than the increase in sales, the start of the holiday season is a time of high energy for the staff and owners as well. Lapic particularly enjoys hearing from returning customers.
“We just love this whole season! We get to hear about how pleased people were with their gifts last season, and how someone’s aunt loves lavender and someone’s daughters adore tropical fruit scents,” said Lapic. “Every night during the season the staff and I leave covered in shea butter and dead sea mud – we’re exhausted, but exhilarated!”
Most stores will open between 9-10:00 a.m. on Saturday, November 25, 2017.