The focus shifts to independent shops on Small Business Saturday

Tammy Rostov, owner of Rostov’s Coffee & Tea on West Main Street in Richmond’s Fan District, helped customer Dennis Hopkinson on Wednesday. She has been participating in Small Business Saturday for three years.

Many small retailers hope Saturday will be their day.

Thousands of small stores across Virginia will offer their own discounts and promotions to lure holiday shoppers into their shops on what is known as Small Business Saturday.

“All the hype built up by the big-box stores (today) definitely affects the small retailer,” Dan Grantham, owner of the Silver Parrot Boutique in western Henrico County, said about Black Friday and all the door-buster sales at the national chains.

Instead, Small Business Saturday, which began three years ago as a promotion by American Express, encourages consumers to visit independent shops, which often are overlooked on Black Friday.

The promotional event also helps small merchants get a bigger share of the spotlight and dollars between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, a day started in 2005 by a retail trade group to encourage Americans to shop online on the Monday after Thanksgiving.

“As a small retailer, and one that focuses on reasonably priced merchandise year-round, I can’t offer the discounts that the national chain stores do on Black Friday and stay afloat,” said Paula Rhoads, owner of home décor retailer Urban Interiors in Carytown.

Small Business Saturday looks to put some of the attention back on the small, independent shops that get lost in the hoopla surrounding the early days of the holiday shopping season.

To get consumers’ attention, American Express has used advertising to urge people to shop locally Saturday.

The credit card company also is giving its customers, who registered in advance, a $25 credit for a purchase of $25 or more at small business.

And to help retailers get the word out in their neighborhoods, the company gives free marketing materials, including signs, to merchants that registered.

“They spend millions,” Tammy Rostov, owner of Rostov’s Coffee & Tea on West Main Street in Richmond’s Fan District, said about American Express’ promotional efforts.

American Express will not say how much the promotion costs, but Susan Sobbott, president of American Express OPEN, the company’s small-business division, told The Associated Press that the amount is considerable.

Rostov, who has participated in Small Business Saturday for three years, said the effort works.

Before, the Saturday after Thanksgiving “was the worst day of the year for us,” Rostov said.

But sales at her shop have since exploded on that day. In 2010, revenue rose 75 percent on Small Business Saturday compared with the previous year. Last year’s sales were up 20 percent.

Rostov expects the popularity of Small Business Saturday, and her sales, to keep growing.

A recent survey found that 67 percent of respondents plan to shop at independent business Saturday, up from 44 percent last year.

The survey, by the National Federation of Independent Business and American Express, also found that 70 percent of shoppers who participated last year will spend as much or more this year than last year. The average customer is expected to spend $100 on Saturday.

Sally Ashby, director of marketing for Carreras Jewelers on Libbie Avenue, said the store is extending a Friday sale an extra day to capitalize on the small-business focus.

“We are inviting clients to shop with us but also promoting the entire Libbie-Grove and Patterson shopping area where we are located,” she said. “We, just like all of our neighbors, are advocates for shopping locally with small businesses.”

The shop holds an annual sale each Black Friday, but it’s geared toward regular clients looking to get a head start on their holiday shopping.

In Carytown, the merchants association is helping to entice more shoppers on Small Business Saturday by providing free horse-drawn carriage rides from noon to 5 p.m.

Many of the retailers along the 1-mile stretch of West Cary Street are offering special deals Saturday. For instance, consumers can get a 20 percent discount at Champagne & Shoes, Ellman’s Dancewear and Indigo Avenue Clothing stores.

Elsewhere in the Richmond region, dozens of retailers plan to take advantage of the increased attention to their businesses on Saturday.

But the Retail Merchants Association is looking to shine the spotlight on independent retailers a second time this holiday shopping season.

The organization is promoting Dec. 8 as “Think. Shop. Buy. Local. Saturday,” said Sally Witzky, vice president of marketing and innovation for the local trade group. It is an extension of the “Think. Shop. Buy. Local” campaign the group launched more than three years ago.

The day gives independent retailers another chance to have the attention put on them, Witzky said.

But such retailers as Urban Interiors’ Rhoads aren’t waiting. For them, Saturday is the big day.

“We are fully staffed and ready to do what we do best,” she said.

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