Local shops report little bump from Small Business Saturday promotion

There were no lines out the doors or discounted electronics teetering in carts on Small Business Saturday.

Area business owners aren't sure the national push for local shops brings in more traffic than any Saturday following a holiday would.

"It doesn't do anything for us," said Fifth Avenue South shop owner Larry Liss, a small business stalwart on a street where his store, The Blue Mussel, has outlasted most others.

Any promotion of small business is good, Liss said, but one day a year with a little more foot traffic isn't going to make or break his shop.

Since 2010, when American Express started Small Business Saturday, it has been the middle sibling in a trio of zippily-labeled shopping days, after the frenzied Black Friday and before click-happy Cyber Monday.

Although some communities around the U.S. push for patronage that day, no business association in Collier County heavily promoted the event. The shops that did participate largely did so through self-promotion, announcing discounts in ads or on social networking websites.

The Fifth Avenue South Business Improvement District gave out free doormats from American Express to shops on the street to draw in passersby.

"If there's any kind of opportunity out there, I certainly want to take advantage of it and make all of our businesses aware," said the district's executive director, Lise Sundrla.

But several businesses reported the mats didn't do much to attract customers outside of the usual flow.

At Grace and Shelly's Cupcakes, a few blocks west of the Blue Mussel, one customer sat alone in the sun outside the shop early Saturday afternoon.

Employees said the bulk of the store's business comes in the evening and the doormat didn't seem to change that. Nor did a $5 discount on gift cards.

During this holiday season, the average shopper will spend about $750 between gifts, decorations, and other purchases, according to forecasts from the National Retail Foundation. While big-box stores get their slice of Black Friday fame as elbows fly for discounted toys and TVs, the NRF doesn't track how much money consumers spend at small businesses.

The foundation notes, however, that 95 percent of the country's retailers are one-shop businesses, and more than 98 percent have fewer than 100 workers.

As several small families and couples ogled the chocolate display at the Naples shop for Norman Love Confections, manager Barbara Fritz-Morris said her stance on Small Business Saturday was "why not?"

"It really doesn't hurt you," she said.

There were more customers than usual for a Saturday, which she attributed to the confluence of Thanksgiving, the busy season starting locally, and a 10 percent discount the local business advertised.

"People don't know about it, but when I tell them, they're happy... It basically pays your taxes," Fritz-Morris said, adding that some customers were thinking ahead Saturday and ordering gifts for later.

The problem for small businesses — and the solution — is in highlighting the shops year-round, not just on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, said The Blue Mussel's Liss.

"That's one day. What about the rest of the days?" he asked. "Let's promote small business in general."

© 2012 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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