Local shops gear up for Small Business Saturday

While some large department stores are pushing up the start time for holiday shopping this year, the pace will be much slower for Main Street businesses across the state on Small Business Saturday.

For small business owners, that difference is not necessarily a bad thing.

"When you think about Small Business Saturday and shopping in downtown districts, it's a different pace, it's a customer service experience," Bel Air Downtown Alliance director Scott Walker said.

Chris Coleman, vice-president and part owner of Nelson Coleman Jewelers in Towson, says there's great personal value in shopping locally.

"You're a person, you're a personality, we're going to remember your name," Coleman said.

Baltimore County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Keith Scott described the pace of Small Business Saturday as "Norman Rockwell-esque."

"It's like a sense of nostalgia when they get to connect to a small shop," Scott said.

In Bel Air, the day coincides with the town's annual Christmas Parade and The Festival of Trees.

"It's a very festive atmosphere in downtown Bel Air." Walker said. "There's a positive holiday atmosphere and I don't think you get that same experience at big box."

Walker said for the past four years, since promotion of Small Business Saturday started, businesses in Bel Air have seen a steady increase in participation.

"It's huge, not only do you see increased participation, you see increased interaction," Walker said.

Scott said he also sees growth in the Small Business Saturday in Baltimore County, and he says the hope for this year is simple.

"The expectations would be that they sell more than they did last year," Scott said.

Those expectations are not tainted by how well, or poorly, Black Friday goes for large chain stores.

"If you look at Main Street across the country, they're not selling the products that are pushed on Black Friday," Walker said. "The overwhelming majority of those shoppers are not our shoppers. It's not even a conflict really either."

Scott and Walker agree that both large and small businesses have their place.

"I think they're two different types of business concepts and I think they legitimately offer advantages on both sides," Scott said. "I think every player has a chance."

Even so, small businesses typically aren't trying to compete on Black Friday.

"In the retail world that's always going to be a great day, but in the small retail world, Small Business Saturday is a better day than Black Friday," Walker said. "Black Friday still has a place in small retail, but Small Business Saturday has just blown up in promotion."

Shopping locally isn't just about a slower pace or unique products, those in the know say.

"When you invest locally into a small business you recycle your money back into your community," said Wendy Rosen, president of The Rosen Group which helps artists with marketing and business issues.

Scott echoed Rosen's sentiments.

"Small businesses obviously are the foundation, but I think that people need to look at what small businesses do for the community," Scott said.

He explained that these small, local businesses often sponsor local teams and re-invest in the community and their owners often live and shop nearby.

"We're not just in this for business," Rosen said.

Shopping locally is also something that promoters of Small Business Saturday hope carries on beyond the holidays.

"The overall importance is just keeping those small businesses in your backyard thriving and in business," Walker said. "I think the secondary level is not only do we want you to shop locally on Small Business Saturday, but also the other 364 days of the year."

Coleman says he's witnessed this growing interest in shopping small first-hand.

"What I have noticed is that it is working its way into people's conversation and we're hearing it from our customers how they're interested in supporting local businesses," Coleman said.

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