By Joshua Maloni
What if I were to, say, double-dog-dare you to try and find products offered by these River Region merchants? Think you could do it?
Go ahead. Search Amazon.
Will some of these items pop up on screen? Probably.
Is it going to take a long time to meticulously search out categories, let alone products? Likely.
If you do find these items, will they fit properly or look right on you? Iffy.
Let's just say you hit the online lotto, and check off the first three boxes. Will you receive one-on-one customer service from merchants who know your name, your children's birthdays and what you bought in July 2016? Highly unlikely.
Hence the need - and the magic - of Small Business Saturday. It's a date dedicated to our backyard merchants: homegrown retailers who make and sell hard-to-find or handmade items, get to know and care for their customers, and give back to the community in ways that go beyond dollars and cents.
Small Business Saturday was created by American Express but, locally, fine-tuned by the Niagara River Region Chamber of Commerce.
"One of the great things about the River Region is the number of small businesses we have that are ingrained in the communities we represent," President Jennifer Pauly said. "We have walkable communities that encourage interaction between shop owners, customers and residents. Small Business Saturday is a way we can showcase our businesses collectively and celebrate them!"
Chamber membership committee co-chair Kyle Heath, the relationship manager at KeyBank, said, "The atmosphere that day is always fun and filled with holiday spirit. It's a great day to celebrate businesses and the customers who support them."
Small Business Saturday follows Thanksgiving. This year, it's Nov. 24.
Some of the local merchants offering unique items this year include:
Some of the products sold at Everything Youngstown.
Sue McNaughton, Everything Youngstown
In the heart of the Village of Youngstown is a store that's basically Amazon-proof. The aptly named Everything Youngstown has items that proudly promote the riverfront community.
Owner Sue McNaughton said she worked with Curt Stuart and Stuart Sports to create original Youngstown-branded shirts. Some of the designs include the water tower and the ZIP code. Cups, meanwhile, have GPS coordinates painted on.
"That was basically our main focus, is on the residents here, because it's a source of pride and also it's like the relatives - everybody that's moved away - wants a little Youngstown," McNaughton said. "I had a customer in yesterday, and she saw our Youngstown water tower shirt on our Facebook, and she wanted it for her son who now lives in Ohio. You know, she's, 'Oh, he's gonna love that.' It's a lot of community pride."
McNaughton explained, "Everything in this store has a story to it. So, either it's a Youngstown story or the product that we have in here has a story. For instance, our chocolates that we have in here, they're called Rescue Chocolate. Not only is it a wonderful chocolate, but 100 percent of their net profits are going to animal rescue. And our Grounds & Hounds Coffee, we brought that in, as well, because 20 percent of that product goes to ensuring every dog has a warm and caring environment.
"Our tentree product here not only comes from sustainable products," but socks "are made from a product called REPREVE, and that's recycled bottles. For every item - every tentree product, you go online - you have this little disc - and you put in your tree code. You can select where you want to have your impact, but they'll plant 10 trees for every item. And their goal is, by 2030, to have planted over a billion trees around the world.
"Toad & Co., right from the very beginning, they adopted a sheltered workshop. So, all of their product is shipped out of a company that's called Planet Access. And all of the employees are adults with disabilities. And so there is a consciousness. With Silipints, here, it's made out of silicone, and their whole objective is to reduce the amount of plastic throw-aways. This is a product that you take with you, take with you camping, etc.
"Everything in here has a story to it, whether we're working with somebody locally - like with Michele Cerrone (of Naturally Nuts) and her popcorn and her nuts and her sauces; to Damon (Robertson of Dragonfly Jams & Jellies) with his wonderful jams; or Tiffany (Green of In The Buff Handcrafted Soaps) with her wonderful soaps, we're having people that are responsible, not only locally but globally. And so, we partnered up with a really nice selection of folks."
Lynn Stephenson, The Country Doctor
At The Country Doctor in Lewiston, "We have a lot of one-of-a-kind items," co-op manager Lynn Stephenson said. "We can't just go in the back and get another one. So, if you see it and you love it, you should buy it."
Right now, the store boasts a whole room filled with "A lot of vintage holiday decorations," Stephenson said.
"We get them all year long," she explained. "We shop for Christmas. We shop all year long trying to save all of our vintage finds or antique finds. We save them. We also did something new this year. We got Creative Co-Op brand-new Christmas products. We're trying to bring in more people, bring in new products into the shop instead of just everything old and antique."
For those who might be considering buying vintage this year, Stephenson said, "Come and look at our windows. You know, our windows are great insight into what's in the shop, and everything in the windows are for sale, too."
MarkAnthony Elizondo, Select Steel
Yes, MarkAnthony Elizondo is selling swords, knives and various ax-type objects in his new Lewiston store, Select Steel. But this is not some sort of "Kill Bill" Crazy 88s fight club, nor does Elizondo promote misuse or underage use of his products. Rather, he says, "I was always into history, mainly, so past Feudal China, Vikings, the Norse mythology, Greek, Roman. I was always a big history buff. I really liked the old style of weapons and how they came up with it, and first just to hunt and gather food and stuff like that. And I figured it made things more outdoorsy, a little bit more permanent, but it had more skill into it, rather than with firearms."
The items in Select Steel are pieces of history, martial arts accompaniments, pop-culture products - and just really cool wall art. They're not meant to harm others and, in fact, Elizondo sells self-defense products that are meant to deter violence.
A number of items in the store are "for people that either like to go out hiking, fishing, camping, hunting, or just stuff for kids to keep them outside and less on video games, less watching TV and on their phones; more staying active and doing something," Elizondo said.
He noted, "It's like a mom and pop store. People can come in and feel comfortable - even though there's a bunch of sharp objects in here."
To that end, one would be surprised how often and in what situations a cutting instrument comes in handy.
"If you need serrated or you need a seat belt cutter, because you're an EMT or an emergency person and you got to have certain items on your knife: By all means - I have it pretty much all," Elizondo said. "I've supplied security officers that do small-time private security and they need something self-defense on them at all times that's not big and bulky and not too small and concealable, but something like in between where they're comfortable wearing it. To full-dress Lewiston police officers coming in just needing another vest knife that they can cut through wires and stuff with."
Arborists, too, need cutting tools and even grappling hooks to ensure tree limbs fall properly.
"I can also do knife sharpening," Elizondo added, "which is a big thing that most people go out to manufacturers to get done. I'm a lot cheaper than they are."
Like so many other River Region businesses, the shopping experience at Select Steel can't be replicated on a computer screen.
"My thing is, you can go online and you get these catalogs for similar stuff like this. And then most people, you know, they're kind of scared to order. They don't know if they're going to get it; it's not what they like; it doesn't suit them; or it's damaged," Elizondo said. "And then they go send it back. And 'Is it really cheap? Is it actually good quality? Do I have to do the research on that?' I try and cut that out - all the middle man stuff. You can just come here. You ask me whatever questions. What suits you, what style you like, what kind of handle. You know, tell me if your hand's a little fatter at the palm. Shorter at the fingers. You need kind of like a wide, but not too wide-based knife to work with."
He further explained, "When you come in, you get the perfect product that you were looking for, specifically. So, if somebody is like, 'I see this sword right here, can you get a sort of similar to this, or do you have one?' I can be like, 'I don't have one specifically, but I can get a similar one to this. Is this exactly what you're looking for? You know, I have a handle that's just like this over here. Are you sure this is the style of the handle that you want? You can see how it fits in your hand before we go ahead and get this.' "
Select Steel also offers a variety of products made famous on TV and in movies.
"There's a really good mix of stuff that's more fantasy-oriented, and then stuff that was actually replicated and based off a true design from historical facts," Elizondo said.
Kayak Niagara offers men's clothes.
John and Valerie Caldwell, Kayak Niagara
When John and Valerie Caldwell opened Kayak Niagara in Lewiston earlier this year, they were, obviously, selling kayaks. That's no surprise. What people might be shocked to learn, however, is that the store also carries - wait for it - men's clothes! A rare commodity in the village.
"We've been in business for about two years. We started out with just kayaks, accessories, related items, and we moved to this location May 1 of this year, and we started adding," Valerie Caldwell said. "We had snow shoes, we've gotten more snow shoes, rentals, sales. We've expanded the clothing line, alpaca, and ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls. Men's coats, blue jeans, Woolrich jackets, shirts - men's and ladies."
She added, "Southern Marsh is one of our main clothiers, and Woolrich, and alpaca. We have afghans for gifts. That's a new line - Southern Marsh - for us. We're the only ones in New York state carrying it right now."
Valerie Caldwell said the initial goal was getting people on the water.
"John and I came out of retirement after 15 years to start this store, because we were very interested in kayaks and/or the lack of them," she said. "We have a powerboat, and we'd be down in the river or the lake and we just didn't see very many kayaks. We got interested in them for ourselves and realized that there was a need for them, we felt, with all the water around here."
The idea in adding clothing and, now, winter-related products is to "be a year-round store, basically," she said.
The Caldwells acknowledged the retail game is new for them and they're learning each day.
"There's just an experience. You see the same people that you shop with, that you sit down to have dinner out with. They become friends. You see them enough. I look forward to seeing people come in the store that I've known all my life," she said.
Sue Sullivan, Sue's Frame of Mind
As Sue Sullivan approaches a decade running Sue's Frame of Mind in Lewiston, she's no stranger to Small Business Saturday. On this day, Sullivan said, "There are a lot of people who ... want to see things; feel things; touch things; and it's a part of that experience, as well; the exchange of ideas as you're shopping in that store or being able to pick something up and actually see that this is the right color for somebody. 'Isn't this a beautiful texture?' It's the whole shopping experience. And I think, Shop Small, the small shops do that because they don't have bulk stock of anything. It's geared towards a very small, intimate shopping experience."
She explained, "It's getting out there and enjoying what you're doing. Not just sit there and push a button and order it online and give them the credit card. This is all a more special event."
Sue's Frame of Mind specializes in, well, special.
"Everything is custom," Sullivan said. "I do everything. It never leaves here. It's all done in house. You talk to me, all the ideas stay here. I'm hands-on. But if it's something deep - if it's not a standard frame - I make it from scratch. If I have to build it up, we build it up."
Nowadays, that "it" can be almost anything. Framing isn't just for flat pieces of paper. In fact, Sullivan has artfully boxed items including golf clubs, jerseys, awards, Tough Mudder vests caked in mud, a pipe and even a violin.
"Everything I try to frame is going to be archival, which means it's not damaged in having it framed. Nothing is undoable. So, if it's a jersey, it's being stitched down. Not glued. Not stapled," she said.
Whatever the item, everything Sullivan frames is "geared towards that gift recipient."
"It's fun to work with people that come in here and, you know, 'I have this; what can we do with this to make it special?' Not just, you know, a jersey or a photograph, but sometimes it's memorabilia that could be sports cards or letters written from someone to someone, or I framed up somebody's grandma's recipe for cookies, and that hangs in his kitchen. I framed up a baby's bib for the first Christmas.
"There's unusual things that you can do, but it's kind of fun to make a very unique gift out of that."
What customers find at Sue's Frame of Mind is something that can't be duplicated online or in a "big box" store.
"When they come in and I chat with them, I try and get a sense of who they are, and who the recipient of the gift is, so that it's a nice surprise," Sullivan said. "It's a wonderful surprise. And the giver is just as thrilled as the receiver of the gift. That's what Christmas is about."
"Shop Small" at:
•Everything Youngstown, 435 Main St., Youngstown
•The Country Doctor, 549 Center St., Lewiston
•Select Steel, 402 Center St., Unit 2, Lewiston
•Kayak Niagara, 621 Center St., Store A, Lewiston (formerly Mangia)
•Sue's Frame of Mind, 748 Center St., Lewiston
Eat local, too
By now, readers know the River Region offers one-of-a-kind retail products. But this area also offers unique eats.
One of the most original restaurants is Casa Antica in Lewiston.
Diners will find homemade entrees. "They're going to find the banana peppers and the riceballs that we're known for," chef Jack Soldano said. "I don't think anybody makes rigatoni vodka (in other commercial districts). I think my whole menu is unique. My risotto. The scampi with the lobster. The sea bass, we get a lot of people from Toronto that brag about it, because of the quantity that we give, and the sweetness. And it's a loin, it's not a filet."
Closer to Christmas, Casa Antica will celebrate the "Feast of the Seven Fishes," with an emphasis on baccalà and smelt.
Jack is shown in this file photo, right, with his son, chef Calogero.
Small Business Saturday is Nov. 24 in River Region
Small Business Saturday will be celebrated on Nov. 24, following the Thanksgiving holiday. The national shopping tradition is centered on celebrating small businesses in local communities. This year, the Niagara River Region Chamber of Commerce board of directors and staff will travel around the region, placing "Shop Small" balloons outside of select member retail businesses. The Chamber of Commerce also will have a "Shop Small" tent from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. at the KeyBank lot (493 Center St., Lewiston).
"The chamber board and staff will be on Center Street at the KeyBank lot this year giving free canvas bags, along with a listing of all of the promotions," President Jennifer Pauly said. "They have committed to really being a part of the day and showing the community our involvement. We have always been behind the scenes making things happen, but, gearing up to 2019, we will be more visible on the forefront! Stop by the tent and get your free bag while supplies last, and coffee and Timbits donated by Robert Burns of CRB Holdings - Tim Hortons."
The Niagara River Region Chamber of Commerce has been an active "Small Business Saturday Neighborhood Champion" for the past seven years. The office has received marketing materials to help promote the day and encourage the public to shop locally and support the small businesses in their communities.
Below is a listing of some of the businesses offering special promotions on Small Business Saturday
(unless otherwise listed). A full listing and featured member business spotlights are also available online at www.NiagaraRiverRegion.com
Anchor Spirits (113 Lockport St., Youngstown)
Anchor Spirits has celebrated Small Business Day since 2011. This year, it will offer 10 percent off all Niagara Wine Trail wines, and usual 10 percent off cases. Tastings of holiday drinks will be available and, with every purchase, customers will receive a 2019 calendar with drink recipes.
Antique to Chic (536 Center St., Lewiston)
Stop by the small business party from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. for refreshments, a free raffle for a chance to win a gift certificate and basket, free giveaways, and 20 to 50 percent off select items. Browse unique holiday gift items.
Black Willow Winery (5565 W. Lake Road, Burt)
Purchase three bottles of wine and receive $5 off. Purchase three of the small bottle oil and vinegars and receive one free.
Brewed & Bottled Craft Beer Shop (402 Center St., Lewiston)
Receive 10 percent off mixed six-packs or more of beer/hard cider (some exclusions apply). Take 20 percent off 22-ounce/750-millileter bottles (some exclusions apply). Brewery swag giveaway (visit store to enter). Draft beer specials.
Buffalo Coffee Roastery (5844 Buffalo St., Sanborn)
Receive $2 off any pound of coffee and $1 off any pound of flavored coffee.
Canterbury Place (547 Center St., Lewiston)
Free gift with purchase from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Cheri Amour (522 Center St., Lewiston)
Discounts will be offered on all of the brands. The store will be open with extended hours from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Full listings of the brands available in store are online.
The Country Doctor (549 Center St., Lewiston)
Stop in for cookies and special treats, and enjoy discounts throughout the shop. Holiday gift bags will be ready for treasures.
Deal Realty/Regina Cecconi (451 Center St., Lewiston)
Stop by and meet Regina for free popcorn, refreshments and a chance to enter to win gift baskets.
DeGiulio's Pharmacy (220 Portage Road, Lewiston)
Enjoy 25 percent off savings on all store merchandise (excluding gift cards and prescriptions). Enter for a chance to win a $100 Visa gift card. Light refreshments will be provided.
Everything Youngstown (435 Main St., Youngstown)
Featured will be new, custom Youngstown Christmas brass ornaments, as well as many other holiday gifting items. Fresh-brewed coffee and hot cider for guests. Receive a free silicone straw with each Silipint purchase. Special surprises and treats.
Hilltop Country Antiques & Niagara Sports Cards (5154 Townline Road, Sanborn)
Collectors will receive 20 percent off antiques and 10 percent off single sports cards at Niagara Sports Cards, located on premise.
Inspirations on Canvas (449 Center St., Lewiston)
Art lovers can take 10 percent off their entire purchase. Plus take a chance to win a $100 gift certificate, and partake in goodies and hot cocoa.
John Lang Designs (442 Center St., Lewiston)
Patrons receive 10 percent off each purchase, plus there will be holiday treats.
Lewiston Museum (469 Plain St., Lewiston)
Stop in to see the decorations. Take advantage of a special weekend-long sale, with $3 off every Lewiston ornament purchased. The museum will also be open on Sunday, which happens to be Museum Store Sunday!
Mad Hatter Tea House (402 Center St., Lewiston)
Check out a new tea line: Tea Forte. Tea Forte products include a holiday collection along with a variety of teaware, including infusers and teacups.
Monica Jewelry Boutique (777 Cayuga St., Lewiston)
Customers can take 10 percent off and draw for a fashion necklace or bracelet with purchase.
One Hemp Holistics (2023 Military Road, Niagara Falls)
Receive 10 percent off a purchase of $75 or more. Free vaporizer with purchase of any Dabs and Isolates.
Orange Cat Coffee Co. (703 Center St., Lewiston)
The Orange Cat will offer special discounts on whole-bean coffees and loose-leaf teas, with special surprises in store. Hours are 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Small Business Saturday.
The Rose Hanger Shop (736 Center St., Lewiston)
Enjoy 10 percent off each purchase at Lewiston's newest boutique.
Select Steel (402 Center St., Unit 2, Lewiston)
Mention Shop Small Saturday and receive a 10 percent discount. Hunters with proper identification will receive 25 percent off any knife from Nov. 17-30.
Spice Harbor (476 Center St., Lewiston)
Enjoy numerous samples all day, including soups. Customers will receive surprise discounts. Shoppers can pull a card at the register, which will reflect how much their discount is worth, up to 25 percent off a complete order.
The Spicey Pickle (463 Center St., Lewiston)
Purchase a $20 gift certificate and receive a free $5 bonus certificate.
Sue's Frame of Mind (748 Center St., Lewiston)
Customers can draw a card from a box and find a special offer/discount -- anything from a percentage off their order, or free glass or mat to be used on that day's order.
Viva Nostalgia (445 Center St., Lewiston)
Receive 10 percent off all DVDs in store.
Warren's Village Hardware (185 Portage Road, Lewiston)
Take 10 percent off all Christmas decorations.