It was the busiest shopping day of the year, but Monroe’s Place was dead.
“We have Black Friday shoved down our throats since Halloween, but there we were and the store was no busier than any other day,” said Nancy Monroe, who goes by the single name Monroe.
So four years ago, the Hamburg store owner organized Green Friday – a call to consumers to patronize the village’s small businesses and recycle their money into their own communities. This year, a trolley shuttled customers from one quaint storefront to another, while musicians played, people sipped hot cocoa and a real, live reindeer frolicked about.
And it’s paying off for the village’s independent stores and restaurants. Some have seen their business triple.
“We may not have a $3 toaster, but you also aren’t fighting 1,000 other people to get your hands on something,” Monroe said. “People are realizing there’s a better way to shop.”
Many other local shopping districts are doing similar marketing pushes, creating an inviting atmosphere with horse-drawn sleighs, tree-lightings, children’s activities and Christmas carolers.
Medina, for example, will host an “Old Tyme Christmas” today, dubbed “an alternative, nostalgia-filled adventure with small town holiday shopping and farm-to-table dining” in the Orleans County village.
Many local businesses around Western New York are running special contests and promotions, giving away free gifts and refreshments and slashing prices.
“When you’re walking down the street past these historic buildings, it’s like being in an old holiday movie,” said Lynn Kinsella, owner of the Aurora Theatre in East Aurora. “Everybody’s walking out of stores with their bags and packages. It’s like ‘Miracle on 34th Street.’ ”
At the theater, Kinsella has a display of props and costumes from the movie “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” with Jim Carrey and will show free Christmas movies or host holiday performances every Saturday at 11 a.m. East Aurora business owners are also competing in a store-decorating contest, the prizes for which are blocks of advertising in local publications.
Today, dubbed Small Business Saturday, independent businesses will get another boost thanks to a successful advertising campaign by American Express. The credit card company started Small Business Saturday in 2010, offering registered cardholders a $10 credit when they used their card to spend $10 at a registered small business.
The “Shop Small” campaign has been a smashing success, stimulating an estimated $5.5 billion in local consumer spending last year, according to the company.
“The advertising is huge for us,” said Casey Hartly, an owner of Buffalo Fleece and Outerwear on Elmwood Avenue.
In addition to national commercial spots and direct-to-consumer promotions, American Express provides participating merchants with “Shop Small” stickers, floor mats, pens, magnets, balloons and reusable shopping bags.
Hartly said her traffic increases from about the usual 100 to 200 people she would get on a typical holiday-season Saturday to about 500 on Small Business Saturday.
Not only do local small businesses need the support of consumers in the community to keep their doors open, the communities need small businesses just as much, research shows. A study by strategic planning consultant Civic Economics found that while national chains return just 15.8 percent of the money spent at their stores back into the community, independent businesses return a whopping 52.3 percent in employment and procurement costs as well as charitable giving.
Consumers win in other ways, too, retailers said.
Instead of competing with a sea of shoppers to locate a single, harried store associate, customers receive doting service, often from the owners of the stores themselves. Independent stores also often have deep knowledge and expertise about the products and services they’re selling, are more invested in keeping customers happy and can more easily be held accountable if problems arise.
“If you bring your computer in for service, we’ll come out to your car and carry it in for you,” said Garrett Cleversley, president of MacSolutions Plus, which sells and services Apple products in the Eastern Hills Mall.
Cleversley said he and his employees give honest advice because they’re not just salespeople, they’re huge fans of Macs. They offer free classes every month, maintain a blog with free tips and tricks for Apple fans and make house calls.
“Chain stores are bigger, but small businesses are better,” he said.