Once the turkey leftovers are packed up, the dishes are drying and Uncle Joe has claimed the last piece of pumpkin pie, the season has unofficially begun: Christmas Shopping Season.
All over the country, retailers stock up, stay open late and dream up ways to entice shoppers through their doors. But while the big-box stores and their big-box budgets can offer deals enticing enough to cause midnight stampedes, smaller businesses can find themselves struggling to keep up.
Recognizing that struggle, American Express started the Shop Small Saturday movement in 2010, offering free marketing materials and publicity for the “local shops that make our communities strong,” according to its website. The movement encourages cities to promote their small, local businesses on the Saturday after Black Friday each year. This year, that's Nov. 24.
The movement quickly gained momentum, with all 50 states participating by 2012. By 2017, there were more than 7,500 Neighborhood Champions, each drumming up support for the movement within their communities. Nationally, an estimated 108 million consumers reported shopping or dining at local businesses on Small Business Saturday in 2017, generating about $12 billion in reported spending.
Jessica Brauer, the community coordinator for Laramie Main Street, has been involved with Shop Small Saturday in Laramie since it started five years ago.
She says small businesses have two things going for them that those big-box stores can’t touch: charm and community – two characteristics folks are especially eager for during the holidays.
The first year, Laramie Main Street simply signed up with American Express’ program, put up posters and encouraged local businesses to participate.
In the years following, they added a shoppers’ guide, advertised with local media and on social media and started offering experiences throughout the day, Brauer said. For example, they collaborated with Blue Federal Credit Union to provide breakfast and coffee in the plaza and offered hot cocoa by the firepit later in the day. Local radio stations did live broadcasts, as well.
Last year, they added a pop-up market for businesses that don’t have a store front, such as home bakers, artists and crafters.
“That was a huge success and we plan to do that again this year,” Brauer said.
With consistency and gradual improvements, the event has snowballed over the years and the community has come to expect both the shoppers’ guide and the event itself, she added.
“Without a doubt, I believe in the model of this event,” she said. “I think it’s hugely successful for business. It’s now seen as a thing we do as a community that brings us together.”
In fact, many business owners have told her they’ve experienced record sales on Shop Small Saturday. And when neighboring businesses hear that, they tend to open their own doors for the following year, adding to the event’s momentum.
“We’ve learned time and time again that the businesses are best influenced by the other businesses,” she said.
Chad Banks, the Urban Renewal Agency manager for the city of Rock Springs, said his community has also embraced Shop Small Saturday.
This year, they are giving away 200 bags from American Express, each filled with special offers from local businesses, and some have surprise gift certificates of up to $100, as well.
“Santa arrives downtown on Small Business Saturday and visits with kids from our museum each Saturday,” Banks added. “We also offer free carriage rides those Saturdays, thanks to corporate sponsors.”
Last year, many Rock Springs businesses reported record-breaking sales on Small Business Saturday, he said.
There are innumerable reasons to shop local, not the least of which is the sales tax dollars that will go toward repairing local streets and providing basic amenities, Brauer added. But that’s not what brings people downtown. Rather, it’s the sense of participating in the community and supporting your neighbors.
“You live here, work here, raise kids here. There’s something about this community that’s in your heart and you love it,” she said. “Shopping local is an opportunity to give back to the community that you love. You’re telling business owners, ‘hey, I see you. I appreciate you. You’re part of the fabric that makes this place home.’”
Check out the map of Small Business Saturday events on Main Streets across Wyoming, and email us about any events we should add!