Small Business Saturday began six years ago, as a way to celebrate and stimulate locally owned retailers. The idea was noble, but would it work? It was, of course, the day after Black Friday.
That infamous shopping slot, at the time, was an annual reason to leave the house in the wee hours after Thanksgiving to stand outside a "big-box store," in the cold, hoping to save a few dollars on TVs, sporting goods and trendy toys.
Would consumers want to leave the house again the next day? Would the holiday budget be blown?
Well, in 2011, the U.S. Senate officially recognized Small Business Saturday, giving legitimacy to the event, which was created by American Express. By the following year, all 50 states were participating. As more and more communities signed on, the day became a cause and, by 2015, more than 90 million people opted to "Shop Small," spending more than $16 billion in the process.
This idea, to bypass the "big-box stores" in favor of the mom-and-pops, caught on quickly in Lewiston, Porter, Youngstown and the surrounding communities.
"The Niagara River Region Chamber of Commerce has been a Small Business Day 'Neighborhood Champion' since 2013," President Jennifer Pauly said. "This role allows us to distribute Small Business Day marketing material to member businesses to help drive sales."
The chamber started early this year, preordering materials to distribute to member businesses ahead of Nov. 26.
"This year, we handed out 40 packets of 'Shop Small' bags, pens, pins, balloons and other marketing and promotional material to local businesses to use," Pauly said. "Some of our businesses report 'Shop Small Saturday' as their most successful Saturday for sales throughout the year!"
Pamela Karski of Canterbury Place, 547 Center St., Lewiston, said consumers have come to realize they'll find better deals - and superior service - shopping locally.
"People like the fact that we giftwrap. We have boxes for most of the items that we sell. They complain constantly about buying gifts in big stores and not getting boxes," she said. "We can help them. We're here. We know our merchandise. We know where it is. We can lead them in the right direction if they're not sure what they're looking for. Or just ask a few questions; you can find out a whole lot about people."
Karski said her customers, "make a point of coming in to show their support of small business. They want to see us stay, which is nice."
She said her approach to business - similar to her Center Street neighbors - is simple: "I try to offer individual attention. I know most of my customers by name after all these years, which certainly helps. And that's kind of what I try to do. I try to make everybody feel special. Everybody likes to feel special."
This will be the first Small Business Saturday for Brewed and Bottled Craft Beer Shop, which opened in July at 402 Center St.
"For us, we came in, and we're a little different concept of how you can beer shop and browse. I'm hoping that a lot more people come in and realize that it's a little different than a grocery or 'big-box' aspect, where you can ask questions, and feel like you're part of a family and a group," owner Chris Budde said. "I'm really hoping that people come in and take advantage of the sale."
Just in time for Small Business Saturday, Brewed and Bottled is debuting a unique wooden six-pack holder.
"It's a locally made item," Budde said. "We're going to fill them up with local beer, too, and maybe offer some specials like that. And just generally get to know more people. Just have more people come on in and get to know us and become our friends."
Here are the stores participating in Small Business Saturday. For the most up-to-date listings, visit https://www.niagarariverregion.com/.
Chris Budde displays a locally made holder, which will be on sale on Small Business Saturday, Nov. 26, at Brewed and Bottled, located at the corner of Center and North Fourth streets, Lewiston.