Upon first glance, the vast selection of items at the Green Boutique might cause even the most determined shopper's eyes to glaze over. • Several sections of the 5,000-square-foot store are devoted to octopus rings, beaded necklaces and Brighton charms. Vera Bradley totes fill an entire corner. Dozens of candles, in scents like Mediterranean fig and pineapple crush, line shelves and fill the air with a unique aroma. • Yet, the atmosphere inside is more welcoming than overwhelming. At any given moment, some of the store's 14 employees can be found flitting through the aisles assisting customers and offering suggestions on what to buy Aunt Mildred for her 100th birthday. • "We offer personalized service," said Rosalind Creager, who has owned the Green Boutique in Valrico for more than 30 years. • And that's exactly what Creager hopes new customers recognize this weekend when the store offers special promotions as part of Small Business Saturday.
Created three years ago by American Express, Small Business Saturday is the credit card company's alternative to Black Friday and is held the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
Last year, more than 100 million people shopped at independently owned small businesses across the country on that day, according to American Express. Participating stores feature sales and many offer incentives to entice shoppers to return in December.
At the Green Boutique, customers can earn a bounce back card worth $5, valid in December.
Those who register with American Express and use their card at participating stores can be eligible for a $25 credit.
"This is a great opportunity for our Hillsborough County residents to support our local small businesses," said Lynn Schultz, the business development coordinator at the Hillsborough County Small Business Information Center. "It keeps money in our community."
More than 90 percent of businesses in the county are considered a small business, Schultz said, meaning they have 25 or fewer employees. Between 600 and 800 new small businesses open each year.
"Small businesses are what drive our community and create our jobs more than any other business form," Schultz said.
This will be the third year City Street Sweets has participated in Small Business Saturday, and each year it seems to boost sales higher, said Steven Ashworth, who opened the Hyde Park confectioner's shop five years ago.
"We saw a dramatic increase last year and I think it will be bigger this year," Ashworth said, though he declined to share exact sales figures. "It also drives customers — and not just friends — but regular customers that generally don't think about small businesses."
And with the event taking place a month before Christmas, many of those new customers come back a few weeks later to stock up before the holiday, he said.
Though American Express has been running television commercials advertising the day, many local businesses rely on the use of social media, such as Facebook, to spread the word about Small Business Saturday.
Ashworth planned to advertise the day's specials on the company's Facebook page ahead of the event.
Barbara Williams, the owner of Bobbie Rose Boutique, a natural skin and hair care product manufacturer and retailer in Wesley Chapel, planned to use Facebook, too. It's one of her best weapons, she said, when competing with big-box retail stores, such as a nearby Bealls Department Store.
"They have market power, they are a corporation that can make as many commercials as they want," she said. "I'm pretty much limited on my advertising and everything has to fit within my budget."
She's not involved with the American Express event but plans to offer specials of her own Saturday, including 10 percent off on skin care products, which she developed herself.
In the Brandon area, a handful of small businesses have additional support behind them thanks to the Greater Brandon Chamber of Commerce.
Laura Randall-Simon, the chamber's vice president of enrollment and marketing, launched a program this year to help augment Small Business Saturday.
"We are helping the businesses with their Facebook postings, helping them come up with special offers and some sort of incentive," Randall-Simon said.
In the window of Al's Tennis shop in Riverview, a Brandon chamber flier proclaims the store is participating in the event. Owner Al Macasinag hopes the day will help his newly opened business grow.
"I'm hoping for new customers to come in," he said. He plans to offer discounts on labor for stringing rackets.
But it's not just himself this new entrepreneur is thinking about. To Macasinag, the idea behind Small Business Saturday stands for something much bigger than Al's Tennis shop.
"I'm really hoping my shop and other shops in this country can contribute to the economy," he said. "If I'm successful and they are successful, then maybe we can turn this thing around."
Shelley Rossetter can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2442.