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By shopping small, customers give big boost on Small Business Saturday

A dozen customers lined up in front of the register at the TreeHouse Toy Store on Elmwood Avenue about 12:30 p.m. Saturday.

Four employees stood behind the counter collecting payments and wrapping purchases, as holiday music filled the air.

The smiling store owner watched from the the back of the shop on this Small Business Saturday.

"It's working," said David Schueckler, who also answers to the job title of TreeHouse "chief toy tester."

Shoppers in the Elmwood Village lined the sidewalks and packed the stores, including the toy shop, an independent store in the midst of its 23rd holiday shopping season.

Small Business Saturday, a national event which started in 2010, aims to highlight small businesses for at least one day of the season. The message resonated with many who came out to make purchases in the Elmwood Village.

More people seem to be making the connection that spending locally helps keep neighborhoods and the local economy strong, said Schueckler, who also noted his thankfulness for support from shoppers.

The Elmwood Village is an annual stop on this day for Tony Favorito and his family. Favorito, who works as a toy designer at Fisher-Price, said he picked up a few small items and got a good start on his Christmas shopping.

"It's just a fun place to walk around," he said. "Sunny day. Perfect."

Customers also crowded ShopCraft, a store on Elmwood focused on handmade, eco-conscious goods handcrafted or designed by more than 50 artists who live and work within 90 miles of the store.

That explains why Small Business Saturday "is a really big day for us," said owner and managing member Christa Penner.

This event brings in customers the store doesn't usually see, Penner said, noting the day has become the equivalent of what Black Friday is for chain retailers.

Joan McDonough, left, and Laura Hayes, of Buffalo, Christmas shop on Elmwood Avenue on Small Business Saturday. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Cindy Metzen of Buffalo came to shop at ShopCraft with her daughter. In addition to Elmwood, they planned stops along Hertel Avenue.

Metzen said she came out to show support for those who run and work in small, local businesses.

"The internet is ruining all these little businesses," she said, "and without these, Buffalo wouldn't be what it is."

Last year on Small Business Saturday, American shoppers spent an estimated $17.8 billion at independent retail stores and restaurants, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration.

For Schueckler's toy store, it has surpassed sales on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving and the traditional kickoff to the holiday shopping season.

"This is now our second-largest day," he said, noting the biggest business day of the year is usually the Friday before Christmas.

Shopping on Small Business Saturday also has become a tradition for Pat Ziolkowski of Buffalo and her family.

They start off the day with breakfast — including mimosas — and then head to Elmwood.

They visit because of the unique gifts available, Ziolkowski said while waiting to check out TreeHouse Toy Store.

The Saturday trip with family is also useful in another way — gift ideas.

"I'll probably be back on Tuesday or Wednesday," she said, "to get what I think they might have liked that they didn't purchase for themselves."

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