Black Friday is king but Small Business Saturday has loyal fans

Shoppers turn out throughout Tampa Bay, intent on supporting local businesses
Published November 24 2018
Updated November 26 2018

Ernestine Morgan began her holiday gift shopping on Saturday, and she had a strategy.

She started with Dunedin's Main Street specialty shops, which have made its downtown one of the most vibrant in Tampa Bay. By noon she had an artisan sweater for her sister-in-law and a locally made pepper grinder for her son-in-law. Next up were the local shops in Belleair for the rest of her list.

This season, she doesn't plan to step inside a mall unless she absolutely has to.

"I've always tried to support local businesses but this is the first year I've totally committed to it," said Morgan, the CEO of Morton Plant Mease Health Care Foundation. "I'm part of the community and I want to support it."

Small Business Saturday spent its eighth official year hyping local businesses to counter the corporate culture of big-box retail spending of Black Friday. Of the 67 million people expected to have done holiday shopping on Small Business Saturday this year, the National Retail Federation estimates the vast majority — 78 percent — did so intentionally to support independent businesses.

It's still not the busiest 24 hours between Thanksgiving Day and Cyber Monday, the official start of the holiday shopping season. Black Friday wears that crown, with 116 million consumers, or 71 percent of all shoppers over the five days this year, according to the federation.

But many local businesses in Tampa Bay felt the enthusiasm for shopping small.

"If people don't start supporting small, local businesses, every town you go to visit, it's going to be just Walmarts and McDonald's," said Boe Rushing, owner of Back in the Day Books, which opened 10 weeks ago in downtown Dunedin. "Businesses like ours is what gives a town its identity and personality. The community supports us, Dunedin has been very good at that."

Marcy Cagwin of Clearwater said she went shopping Saturday specifically for the unofficial holiday. She bought a copy of Lord of the Flies and a biography on The Beatles from Rushing, books she could have ordered online from Amazon but not with the same gratification.

"It's the experience, I love the smell in here," Cagwin said, holding her new books in a canvas bag printed with "Shop Small," a token for customers that participating stores received from American Express, the company that launched Small Business Saturday in 2010.

Some retailers like The Feathered Nest home decor shop in Dunedin offered customers 10 percent off all purchases as a thanks for celebrating the holiday.

A.W. Mercantile, which sells locally handcrafted jewelry, bags, greeting cards and other gifts inside Tampa's trendy Armature Works, didn't offer any special discounts Saturday. But the store gave customers 10 percent off everything on Black Friday, doubling its usual sales in the process, said cashier Taylor Loughhead.

Specialty vendors packed St. Petersburg's South Straub Park for the ninth annual Shopapalooza Festival, which runs the Saturdays before and after Thanksgiving to highlight independent businesses during the holiday shopping season.

Citrus Blossom Soy Candles owner Sandi Roper said her sales at last week's event were double what she saw during 2015's Shopapalooza, convincing her consumers are increasingly looking to spend their money on authentic products.

The culture shift has been a boost for business owners like Roper, who was miserable selling commercial real estate five years ago, went to bed after intense prayer for change and woke up just knowing hand-poured candles was her calling. About a year ago her business grew so much she had to move into a bigger manufacturing space and hire an assistant.

"People want quality," she said.

Only 12 years ago, Michele Northrup was working in the garden at her sons' charter school in Lutz and brought home a haul of carrots to come up with something to inspire the kids.

The sauce she cooked up was enough for friends to convince her to bottle it. A dozen years later, her Intensity Academy business has countless varieties of marinades and gourmet sauces that have won her 58 national awards and put her products everywhere from local restaurants to Whole Foods Markets shelves.

But the most tangible success of a small business like hers is best seen in the community, Northrup said.

"I personally shop local as well so the dollars someone spends with me are going to go to another local business," Northrup said, passing out samples of her Chai Thai Teriyaki in Straub Park.

"It's all within the community."

Staff Writer Kirby Wilson contributed to this report. Contact Tracey McManus at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.