NEW PORT RICHEY — Newcomers are surprised when Karen LeGault gift wraps their purchase, fancy bag and all. Some of the regulars at Karen's Gifts are pleasantly taken aback when LeGault remembers them by name. And many of her customers, seasonal retirees, stop by to give her a hug before heading back north.
"Our people become friends as well as customers, and that's important in a small town," said LeGault, whose emporium of handbags, dolls, glassware and other delicate gifts has been on Grand Boulevard for 17 years.
"You don't go into Penney's and give the girl a hug and say 'See you in November.' "
Small-business owners often feel overshadowed by the big box stores in the Black Friday mania, even though they believe their specialized inventories and personal touch are a better deal for customers. So they hope to get shoppers' attention today with Small Business Saturday, a national campaign sponsored by American Express to promote mom-and-pop shops.
"We've got all these small businesses waiting for customers to come in the doors, and everyone is running out to Best Buy and Walmart," said Jim Smetzer, owner of Pasco Camera Exchange on Main Street. "On Cyber Monday they'll be on their computers buying things out of state. Small Business Saturday is really American Express' attempt to bring business back into the small stores, the downtown stores that really keep the community alive."
Some of the stores will have special sales today. Smetzer negotiated discounts from the manufacturers so he can offer a $140 Olympus camera for $80, for instance. A Canon camera with a telephoto lens that normally sells for $430 will be $380.
American Express sweetens the deal by giving customers a $25 credit on their next statement if they preregister their American Express card online and use it to buy something from a small business today.
Rob Marlowe, who owns GulfCoast Networking on Grand Boulevard and serves as New Port Richey's deputy mayor, spent the week preparing specially priced computers and unpacking small specialty items — blue and pink mice, notebook skins — he envisions as affordable stocking stuffers.
Inventory is only half of the picture, though. Marlowe said he spends time talking with customers about their computer needs so he can match them with the right model.
"That's a level of expertise you generally don't get when you walk into the big box stores," said Marlowe, who has been working with computers for more than 30 years. "In some cases you're buying a box off a shelf and you're on your own, or the level of experience with the salespeople is going to be vastly different depending on who you happen to catch."
No doubt the big box stores offer tempting doorbusters and other deals that are a hit with shoppers. But Joe Alpine, executive director of the West Pasco Chamber of Commerce, urges shoppers to consider the bigger picture. Corporate stores send their profits out of state, he said. Local businesses invest their money here, and often chip in by supporting local charities and community projects.
"We've been preaching this for years now, to support our community by purchasing locally," Alpine said. "And that's not just one day out of the year. This is something we need to be looking at throughout the year, every single day."