By Lee Noles
MONROE – Shellee Comer is all smiles. Comer has owned Silver Lining for the last 22 years, and on a day known as Small Business Saturday, her fashionable boutique is full of shoppers.
“I love it,” Comer said as she hands out a gift to a morning patron. “It’s great to see people out here supporting small businesses. It looks like it’s a good start.”
Comer never imagined this type of turnout 10 years ago when competition against corporations during one of the busiest retail weekends of the year was a challenge for the local business owner.
Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving, when retailers kick off the holiday spending season by offering blockbuster deals to entice shoppers to buy products. The expected gross this holiday season is to reach close to $730 billion, according to the National Retail Federation.
What makes the numbers remarkable is how short the season is with the federation, which is the world’s largest trade association, defining its length between November and December.
Small businesses, however, struggle to compete with the deals offered by larger corporations or publicize themselves to the extent bigger groups can. The discrepancy reverberated through the United States until American Express and the non-profit National Trust of Historic Preservation proposed the idea of a Small Business Saturday 10 years ago. The idea came about during the recession when, according to the American Express website, the company wanted to get people to shop more at small businesses during the holiday season.
“It is harder to compete, but it’s comparing apples to oranges,” said Beth Tourtellot, who operates Peddler’s Paradise in downtown Monroe. “The big-box stores have a lot more resources, and they have more money.”
Robin Laney has operated M-Bellish in Monroe for the last 12 years and notices more people attending Small Business Saturday. American Express estimated the economic impact for the first nine years for locally owned businesses across the United States reached $103 billion.
“It’s very important for us,” Laney said. “It helps us. It helps the community when people shop locally. They are giving back whether they realize it or not.”
Some of the businesses in downtown Monroe have made things more appealing by offering a variety of discounts for shoppers. Comer gave away gift cards valued at $75 to $100. Laney had 25% off everything in the store, while Tourtellot gave away a gift with a purchase of $20 or more.
Shops also teamed with the City of Monroe by holding a raffle where patrons got a ticket for every $10 they purchased. The winners received a $100 gift basket, which had items donated by downtown businesses. The drawings occurred in the middle of the week on Facebook by downtown coordinator Matt Black.
“I appreciate Matt for getting involved to help promote small business,” 47K Marketplace owner Kay Klaren said. “In addition to what the business owners have done as well.”
The impact isn’t lost on the customers who attended the Small Business Saturday this year in Monroe.
Lisa Gausman moved to North Carolina from New Hampshire in 1993 and made her way to Monroe 12 years ago. She was attending the event with her mother, Sue Fraser, and several of their friends.
“We come here because we want to support our local businesses,” Gausman said. “It’s the uniqueness of it all. You can find something different than you would at the mall or a chain store.”
The question now for several businesses is how to keep the momentum going.
Several are involved in the monthly Sip and Shop while Tourtellot, Comer and Karen said they plan to stay open later for Monroe’s annual tree lighting ceremony on Dec. 7.
“This is a big week for us,” Tourtellot said. “This is why we do it, so people can shop locally.”