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Small stores fight for shoppers between Black Friday, Cyber Monday

Fri., Nov. 26, 2010

PHILADELPHIA – The Friday after Thanksgiving has seen Ali Kutner practicing a sad custom in recent years.

She opens her Bohema Artisan and Vintage Boutique here only to experience none of the buying mania that prompted the day’s designation as Black Friday – black as in profitable.

“I’ve been here for a couple of Black Fridays now, and I might as well not be,” Kutner lamented recently. “People aren’t running here.”

And perhaps they won’t be this Black Friday, either. It’s the day after – Saturday, Nov. 27 – that Kutner and small-business owners and advocates nationwide are hoping – and Facebooking and blogging and tweeting – to make their own.

“This is the beginning of what I think is going to be a beautiful tradition,” said Cinda Baxter, the blogger who helped trigger it.

The idea behind Small Business Saturday, also being promoted on radio and TV and with newspaper advertisements by American Express, is to remind consumers that there is more to holiday shopping than “big boxes and national chains,” and that dollars spent in small, independently owned stores also are an investment in their host communities, said Baxter, a former stationery-store owner from Minneapolis who is now a retail consultant.

“For every $100 spent … $68 returns back to the local economy from payroll and taxes to related business expenditures,” Baxter said in a phone interview last week. That local return drops to $43 if spent in a big-box store, she said.

For the good of local economies, a piece of not only the Thanksgiving weekend shopping pie but of all shopping “desperately has to be shared with independent bricks and mortar again,” Baxter said.

How that thought became a nationwide movement with American Express as its primary sponsor began as a call-to-action blog post by Baxter in March 2009. She urged her readers to think of three independently owned businesses they would miss if they disappeared, and to consider that “if half the employed population spent $50 each month in locally owned businesses, it would generate more than $42.6 billion in revenue.”

From that, The 3/50 Project and its website,, followed.

With those, Baxter had a strong small-business advocacy voice, but “we didn’t have the kind of podium” to convert the message into a national movement. Thus the collaboration with American Express.

Rosa Sabater, a senior vice president at the credit card giant, has been working with small-business customers for 15 years. What she has heard in the past six months, she said, has been “almost desperation.”

“Their No. 1 need is sales,” Sabater said. “They need people walking in their real door, or virtual door. If they have that, they can invest in jobs and infrastructure.”

So American Express concluded that helping small businesses have a better chance of cashing in on Thanksgiving-weekend shopping was a wise effort – for merchants and, obviously, for American Express.

The Saturday after Thanksgiving made sense, Sabater said, considering “there’s a Black Friday, there’s a Cyber Monday,” so named for the heavy Internet shopping done the Monday after Thanksgiving.

As part of the Small Business Saturday program, $100 in Facebook advertising is available to the first 10,000 qualifying businesses. They must be businesses that accept American Express cards, have websites or fan pages on Facebook, and earn no more than $10 million in annual revenue.

To encourage shoppers to buy local and small, American Express is offering a $25 credit to the first 100,000 of its customers who use the credit card at a small business that Saturday.

But this is no once-and-done exercise, organizers insist.

“It’s about every day keeping all these small businesses top of mind, and understanding what they mean to our economy and our communities,” Sabater said.

That got an enthusiastic endorsement from Leanne Krueger-Braneky, executive director of the Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia, a business-advocacy group.

“One day of good sales is not going to sustain any business,” Krueger-Braneky said.


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