Thirty years ago, no one would have needed a reminder to shop at local businesses. While mall traffic during the holiday season was a given, neighborhood shops were still doing brisk business. Now, challenged by big box stores, massive online entities and the proliferation of chains, it can be harder than ever for small shops to get noticed amid the blitz of corporate marketing.
To help, American Express in 2010 named the Saturday following Black Friday “Small Business Saturday” and encouraged consumers to shop locally. After all, money spent at a local business is most likely to go back into the community, in the form of violin lessons for the owner’s son or dance school for a daughter.
Last year, AmEx estimated consumers spent $5.5 billion at small businesses during Small Business Saturday. Although the company offers a nice hookup for shops that take American Express—they can register to be put on a national map of participating businesses and get exclusive marketing materials—any business can get involved. (And, truth be told, many small businesses can’t afford American Express’s transaction fees.) Thanks to social media, Small Business Saturday has taken off.
This year’s event is Saturday, November 30. For Mt. Lebanon, celebrating the event will be easy, as our business districts, including Uptown, Beverly Road, Castle Shannon Boulevard and even some of the locally owned kiosks and stores in The Galleria, provide a variety of local shopping not found in many places. Encouraging people to visit local stores is a yearlong mission for Commercial Districts Manager Eric Milliron; even the light poles in Uptown wear banners that proclaim “Shop Lebo!”
The Uptown Business Association (UBA), which represents many of the businesses on Washington Road, will have a holiday open house on November 30, with many of the businesses open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. The day will include carolers, Santas (and a station where kids can write letters to Santa), firepits and a juried window decorating contest for shops.
“It would just be a fun thing,” says Karen Wolowski, of the UBA. “We just want people to know we’re open for business. And we appreciate their business.”
While the government doesn’t have a “magic number” that determines what constitutes a small business, either by size or by income, most of us know a small business when we see it. Milliron says he has one sure way to tell if a business qualifies as small: “I can meet the owner.” Maybe the owner works the counter or greets you when you come in. You may be on the store’s email (or old-school postcard!) list or invited to special events. And even some chain stores are owned, operated and staffed solely by locals, which earns them an “invitation” to Small Business Saturday, too.
“It’s the Rollier’ses over the Walmarts. The You’re Inviteds over the Hallmark stores,” Milliron says. “Shop on Main Street. Not the mall.” Yet, the mall may not be the biggest risk to small business. Milliron views online shopping as the biggest threat to small business, as shoppers can usually find the size and quantity they want, often for a cheaper price. Yet cyberspace typically does not offer the customer service a small shop does, he notes, and it does not help keep our town vibrant.