More than a dozen dogs and their owners crowded into a Seminole Heights store Saturday morning on a mission.
They were there to shop, and even the cute poodle in the next aisle wasn't going to distract them.
The weekly dog walking group arrived at Health Mutt, a natural pet market and dog wash at 6116 N Central Ave., to celebrate Small Business Saturday, a day aimed at providing a boost to the local economy during one of the busiest shopping weekends of the year.
"My favorite aspect of Small Business Saturday is that the entire community comes together," said Kendra Bailey, the owner of Health Mutt. "People show appreciation for the unique, vibrant shops that make this neighborhood a fun place to live."
Created three years ago by American Express, Small Business Saturday is held the Saturday between Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Customers who register with American Express and use their card at participating stores are eligible for a $25 credit on their statement. Many stores also offer sales of their own.
That's what brought Chuck and Martha Altman, of South Tampa, to Cheese Please on Saturday.
The couple routinely visits the cheese and wine specialty shop at 4213 S Manhattan Ave. but made an additional trip to take advantage of the American Express deal.
"I'm sure we'll be back before Christmas," Chuck Altman said. "You can't get this anywhere else — it's a unique spot and the knowledge they have about cheese is amazing."
And compared to fighting the crowds at the big box retailers on Black Friday, shopping at a small business is pleasant, Martha Altman said. With the store to themselves Saturday morning, the couple tried several varieties of cheese before purchasing three hunks and a jar of merlot jelly.
"We have to support our local business owners," Martha Altman said.
Carlos Kanamori, who co-owns Cheese Please with Michael Jones, said he is grateful for those customers who come in year round, but is happy to see a spike in business associated with the event.
"It is a great opportunity not just for us but for all small businesses," he said.
On Central Avenue in St. Petersburg, Ben Chertok was surprised at the number of people who turned out on what was only the second day that his business, Central Oddities, has been open.
"I think it has been more than I expected," Chertok said of Saturday's customers, noting that the numbers were even greater than what he saw on Black Friday. "I wasn't sure how busy it would be."
The opening of Central Oddities, at 2055 Central Ave., is the culmination of a longtime dream for Chertok, a teacher of construction technology and English at St. Petersburg High School. The store, which sells an eclectic array of antiques, folk art, pinball machines and other games, is an outgrowth of Chertok's passion for collecting old and hard-to-find items.
Among those he sold Saturday were a Victorian chair, a stained glass piece, a set of vintage board games, and a 1930s peep show doll that Chertok described as "scandalous."
He credited other businesses in the area, particularly the Art Pool Gallery, with spreading the word and keeping customers flowing.
The same was the case down the street, where RoCo Traders teamed with its neighboring business, Twigs and Leaves, to promote their merchandise. The latter business, at 1013 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. S, sells a variety of native Florida plants and garden supplies. A front garden had some of the plants on display intermingled with some of RoCo Traders' decorative metal sculptures, bird baths and tiki torch bulbs.
Business usually picks up around the holidays, said RoCo Traders owner Durella Rodriguez, but she credited national advertising and word of mouth about Small Business Saturday with bringing a noticeable spike in the number of shoppers.
"It felt to me like people were making a conscious effort to support local businesses," Rodriguez said. "I think the long term benefit would be, once you get them in here, they keep coming back."
Times staff photographers Lara Cerri and Willie Allen contributed to this report. Shelley Rossetter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 661-2442.