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Local stores spin Small Business Saturday into sales

How important is Small Business Saturday to Heather Kalisiak and her North Tonawanda shop Martinsville Soapworks? Her store gets so busy, she rakes in an entire month’s worth of sales on that one single day.
So, yeah, it’s pretty important.

“I make sure we have extra hands so I can really help people choose the perfect gift for their loved ones – and themselves, too,” she said.

This year, the return for independent merchants like her is expected to be even better. Roughly half of those who plan to shop on Small Business Saturday said they plan to spend more money than last year, according to a Consumer Insights Survey released by the National Federation of Independent Businesses and American Express. That’s no small potatoes considering 95 million people participated in last year’s Small Business Saturday, spending $16.2 billion, according to American Express.

The credit card company, which created Small Business Saturday in 2010, provides participating merchants with special signage, reusable shopping bags, welcome mats, stickers and other Shop-Small branded supplies that help raise awareness about the big day, as well as marketing materials and national advertising.

That national reach of a powerhouse like American Express has been crucial to building momentum behind the movement. It would be impossible for a mom and pop shop to compete with the millions of dollars in advertising pushed forth by big boxes like Walmart and Best Buy. But American Express’s marketing push helps put a spotlight on small businesses to help them stand out among the crowd.

Often, merchants will offer special promotions, extend their hours or team up with neighboring shops to leverage the attention Small Business Saturday brings. This year, small businesses across Western New York have special sales and events planned.

Downtown Buffalo is pairing a “shopper’s passport” with its Small Business Saturday festivities. Shoppers can pick up a passport at one of four check-in locations, including Shops at Harborcenter, WNY Book Arts Center, Queen City Pop-Up at Fountain Plaza and the Shops at Market Arcade. Once the passport is filled with stamps from participating merchants, shoppers are entered to win a basket filled with gift cards and gifts from downtown shops. It takes place from noon to 4 p.m.

In Lewiston, the Niagara River Region Chamber of Commerce is touting special promotions with its members. Shoppers can get a free gift with purchase at Canterbury Place, 547 Center St. in Lewiston; a free cup of coffee at Tina’s Place Restaurant, 5835 Buffalo St. in Sanborn and up to 50 percent off at Lewiston Antique Mall, 2692 Saunders Settlement Road in Sanborn.

The Chautauqua County Chamber of Commerce has more than 80 merchants participating this year. The chamber promotes the businesses using traditional media and social media and has a gift check program which is sort of like a local currency that can be used at participating, independent businesses.

Nicole Leinbach-Reyhle, a Small Business Saturday spokeswoman, said the annual event has grown beyond expectations.

“The message inspires people year-round as a result of the Shop Small messaging,” Leinbach-Reyhle said.

Increasingly, customers said supporting local, small businesses is important to them, especially during the holidays – a whopping 91 percent of them, in fact, according to the American Express report. They cite the resources small businesses give back to their communities, the taxes they pay, the jobs they create, as well as the customer service and expertise they provide. There are 28 million small merchants out there, accounting for 54 percent of all U.S. sales, according to the U.S. Business Administration.

Kalisiak in North Tonawanda has been participating in Small Business Saturday since its inception in 2010. Even though she was a home-based business at the time, she went out of her way to capitalize on the national buzz and scheduled an open studio event to coincide with the day. She’s seen traffic grow over the years.

She started preparing for the holiday season in August. Because everything is made in the store, she has been working frantically to make enough fragrant soaps, lip balms and scrub drops to keep up with demand. Whatever she sells at the end of November and during the month of December will likely make up 40 percent of her annual sales.

“I really appreciate Small Business Saturday because it reminds everyone that we’re here, that they have a choice where to spend their dollars,” Kalisiak said. “It’s so easy to make an impact on our entire community by doing something as simple as shopping small.”

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