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Tampa Bay shoppers keep dollars local on Small Business Saturday

Joe and Joan Napoli didn't wait in line for days. They didn't stay up all night or rush through crowds for deep discounts. And they definitely didn't see any pepper spraying or fistfights.

"I don't believe in Black Friday," said Joan Napoli. "It's disgusting."

Instead, the South Pasadena couple quietly perused businesses along Central Avenue in St. Petersburg late Saturday morning. They'd heard the buzz about Small Business Saturday, a day meant to bolster local businesses during one of the busiest shopping weekends of the year.

"I think it helps the economy," she said. "It keeps the moms-and-pops going."

They weren't alone.

Offering substantial discounts, many local businesses, from consignment stores to beauty salons, saw a modest bump in the number of shoppers Saturday. Perhaps more encouraging: They saw new faces and heard many people say they wanted to help small businesses.

People like Tim Dykstra of Tampa.

Dykstra, 36, didn't plan on visiting Velo Champ bicycle shop in Seminole Heights.

Then he heard about the day dedicated to shopping small, and he changed his mind.

"(Part) of what keeps local businesses open is the people who want to keep them open," he said.

An aspiring business owner himself, it was the least he could do to help the local economy.

American Express introduced Small Business Saturday last year. It offers customers a $25 credit on their statement if they register their card on Facebook and visit a participating retailer.

This year seems to have gotten much more buzz than 2010, said Celesta Carter, who owns Paper Street Market, which sells antique furniture, vintage jewelry and home accents on Central Avenue in St. Petersburg.

"I'm really hoping it takes hold and becomes an annual tradition,'' she said. "I think overall it's a really great thing for small businesses, for shopping local."

Many local businesses offered their own discounts and weren't part of the American Express effort.

Although they appreciate the day, some business owners pointed out that it's going to take a lot more than one day to keep small businesses alive. It's about personalized service and loyal customers.

"I think Black Friday and all that is overrated," said Dick Rumore, owner of Paragon Music Center in Tampa. "People sell things as cheap as they possibly can. It's not worth the aggravation. If you make a good biscuit, you don't change the recipe."

Customers have been coming to Paragon for more than 40 years because of the customer service and high-quality products, he said. Many musical instruments come with free music lessons.

"It seems like the most important thing to people now is where they can get it the cheapest," Rumore said. "I'm glad there are people who can appreciate service. There are a few intangibles that make it better for people to buy from us."

Merchants cited several advantages for shopping locally, especially in today's weak economy. The big one: More money stays in the local economy.

"When someone is shopping with me, I'm going to go to my local bank, I'm going to go out to a local restaurant, I shop at a local grocery market, I support local doctors," said Desiree Sheridan, the owner of Buffalo Gal Vintage, also on St. Petersburg's Central Avenue.

The value of a day dedicated to small businesses goes beyond cash register sales, said Steve Baginskie, the owner of Yancy St. Comics in Port Richey.

"If for nothing else, it might make people realize how important it is to support your local business," he said. "Being a small business, we obviously believe it's the small business that drives the country. We hire the most people and we support the community much better than a big company."

Tampa Bay shoppers keep dollars local on Small Business Saturday 11/26/11 [Last modified: Saturday, November 26, 2011 10:52pm]

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