Big box stores have big marketing budgets.
Charles Eckert has his sister and a sign.
Eckert, 22, bought an Amherst embroidery business in August, and on his first Black Friday as a full-fledged merchant, he got some help from his sister, Ella Rose, 12, and her friend.
They rose early to wave down shoppers with the promise of free coffee and 25 percent off inside Initial Impressions, Eckert’s store at Sheridan Drive and Harlem Road.
This holiday season, Eckert is not the only small-business owner with a plan.
Over in East Aurora, village merchants stationed young people in top hats, long black coats and white gloves at their doors. For greeting shoppers, they earned community service credits from their schools.
In Hamburg, retailers Saturday staged a festive parade to draw hundreds of people into the wind-whipped village business district. That’s the day after the village offered free trolley rides to carry shoppers from store to store.
Retailers whose “corporate headquarters” are found in the back room are marching to their own drummers. Not to be outdone by regional and national chains, they are trumpeting their merchandise and the virtues of buying local.
Just as it makes sense to buy locally grown food, the same goes for gifts given over the holidays, according to independent retailers and a number of organizations that say local-minded commerce leads to stronger communities.
“Everybody shops the chains,” said Michelle Koehler, manager of the locally owned Clarence Center Coffee Co. “That’s why we’re trying to do promotions to get people to shop locally. The message: Get out of the chains and help support the local businesses.”
The word is spreading.
“There’s just so much more awareness about keeping your local shops vibrant,’’ said Kevin Beckwith, who sells outdoors gear at his Gear for Adventure store in the Village of Hamburg.
The Saturday after Black Friday’s mall mania has become Small Business Saturday, a designation promoted by American Express.
Studies show that shopping with local, independent enterprises is more likely to help the local economy. For every $100 consumers spent with a local firm, $68 remained in the Chicago economy, according to a study commissioned in 2004 by the Andersonville Development Corp. in Andersonville, Ill., a neighborhood on Chicago’s north side.
By comparison, the figure was $43 for every $100 spent with a chain.
The study also found that for every square foot occupied by a local firm, the local economic impact was $179, as compared with $105 with a chain.
Similar studies around the country found that money spent with locally owned businesses feeds the local community, where it fosters the creation of homegrown or homemade treasures.
Ninety percent of the items sold in Therese Deutschlander’s shop on Elmwood Avenue, Thin Ice, were made by people who live locally, Deutschlander said. The shop carries coasters, clocks and wall art, as well as pillows that look like street signs and that bear the names of well-known city thoroughfares.
“You’re not just shopping local,’’ Deutschlander said. “You’re supporting local artists.”
Similarly, Greg Link estimates that he and other local artists make 70 percent of his inventory at Cone Five Pottery, on Hertel Avenue near Wellington Road. He sells blown-glass ornaments, jewelry, pottery, greeting cards and sun catchers, among other things.
Some buyers see the value. David and Leah Snyder of Cheektowaga said they were shopping on Elmwood to promote the city and support independent businesses.
“It’s the camaraderie of it,” Leah Snyder said. “Sometimes you pay a little bit more, but there’s a benefit.’’
There are 69 businesses in the two-block section of East Aurora’s Main Street between Olean Road and Elm Street. Those 69 businesses employ 450 people, said Gary Grote, executive director of the Greater East Aurora Chamber of Commerce.
“It’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the malls, but how many stores of clothing do you need to look at?” said Yvonne Evilsizor, owner of East Aurora’s Taste Bistro. “There’s an excited calmness in the air here. We kind of feel like a contemporary Norman Rockwell scene. We’re not a bunch of junky little shops. Each shop is so proud of what it does, because it’s their baby. That’s a big difference between a corporate store and a village shop. There’s a whole different feeling you get here than the malls.”
Vidler’s Five & Dime – for decades an East Aurora landmark – emphasizes more than just shop locally.
“The whole emphasis is beyond shop local, but shop for unique items,” said Beverly Vidler, president of Vidler’s. “Before strip plazas and malls, Main Street is how people shopped.”
Clarence promotes local shopping through its Meet in the Center Merchants Association. Deborah Tangelder, acting president of the association and owner of the Perfect Gift boutique, housed in an 1800s historic building in Clarence Center, says it’s less stressful to shop in small communities.
“We offer an experience of what [holiday] shopping used to be and should be,” Tangelder said. “It should be an enjoyable experience in which the customer feels valued, appreciated ... a place where they can feel fortified where they’re spending their hard-earned dollar, instead of standing in line being hassled and not feel the Christmas spirit.”