(This post originally appeared on Philly.com)
Since 2010, when American Express first started the tradition during a different recession by offering a discount to customers that “shopped small,” Small Business Saturday has morphed into a national holiday of sorts and has been established as the next big day of shopping right after Black Friday to open up the holiday season.
And it’s been wildly successful. U.S. shoppers alone spent a record $19.6 billion at independent retailers and restaurants during the day in 2019. “We all came together to prove that shopping small really does add up,” an American Express official said last December.
Of course, that was LAST December – a lifetime ago from what small businesses are facing today. We all know how so many small businesses in the Philadelphia area are struggling in the wake of state and local restrictions and the unprecedented slowdown in the U.S. economy. Which is why most small businesses here who took advantage of Small Business Saturday in the past are preparing for a different day this weekend.
Many business owners have already shifted much of their operations to online sales, and have set up their digital presence on Amazon, Etsy, eBay or on their own sites using tools like Shopify, Magento and Big Commerce. “Many of our customers are doing online shopping only,” says Erika Tonelli-Bonnett, the General and Account Manager at Center City Pretzel Co. in Philadelphia. “Which is good for us as we operate a mail-order business which may hopefully see a surge in orders as we approach the holidays. We’re hoping Small Business Saturday will help give a kick to sales.”
But selling online isn’t the only strategy. The pandemic has forced countless business owners to change the way they’re approaching the day and perhaps for many years to come.
“Because we are only doing in-store shopping one at a time, we are adding additional holiday hours so more people can get in to shop,” says Jessie Menken, the Owner of Ali’s Wagon, a Philadelphia-themed gift store based in Fairmount. Menken is taking “strict measures” and having even fewer people in the store than legally allowed. She admits it’s not a great business plan to do this, but she feels strongly about the safety of her employees and customers.
So her big focus is bringing together her website and her brick and mortar location. “At this point everything in the store is up online,” she says. “We offer free in-store pick-up without an appointment, meaning that we pack online orders and can hand them off right at the door. We also offer free delivery in certain nearby zip codes.”
Menken is one of a number of retailers that’s offering special discounts to target Small Business Saturday shoppers and even expanding those discounts beyond just the one day. Her discount – which is 20 percent off all products purchased in-store and online – lasts this entire week until Sunday.
Others, like Susan Zornes, who co-owns Monster Pets in Philadelphia, are extending their Black Friday sales through Small Business Saturday and offering raffles and appreciation treats to customers who spend more than $50. Jennifer Hill, who manages Ten Thousand Villages on Walnut Street, is doing Facebook Live sales so that her customers can purchase and experience their crafts (as well as the stories behind them) from home and then place orders by phone for curbside pickup or delivery.
Andrew Celwyn, co-owner of Herbiary in the Reading Terminal Market, has seen a 40 percent drop in business this year and is using Small Business Saturday to launch a new line of products that he hopes will jumpstart sales. Nicole Mercurio, a manager at Old City’s Shane Confectionery plans to offer special coupons which can be used online for any shoppers that visits her cafe’s “safe and appropriately distanced!” takeout window. “Historically, the weekend after Thanksgiving officially begins one of our busiest times of the year, so we’re optimistic,” she says.
But many small business owners are also hoping the day creates an opportunity for the general public to support their own survival. And for them, it’s not just Small Business Saturday.
“We are dependent on EVERY day business, not just this one day per year,” says Center City Pretzel’s Tonelli-Bonnett, whose business has seen an 80 percent drop in sales this year. “Philadelphia was built on the shoulders of your mom-and-pop shops, not the big box stores, not the franchises. Small business and family-owned and operated shops are the backbone of our city and are sadly closing up shop quickly.”
Menken agrees. “The year has been frustrating and certainly well below sales from previous years but we are hopeful that we can at least hang in through all of this so we can come out on the other side, operating in a community that we love so much!”