Saturday puts small retailers in the spotlight
Many downtown businesses in Chester County and the region are taking part on Nov. 26
The area’s small towns are lining up for a slice of the early Christmas shopping season pie.
Many business support organizations and individual businesses are taking part in tomorrow’s Small Business Saturday, a national effort to get consumers onto Main Street USA to do their shopping.
“People are excited about this shopping season,” said Mark Yoder, president of the Greater West Chester Chamber of Commerce, which has supported businesses in the borough participating in the promotion for about four years. “I don’t know how to explain in exactly, it just feels like people are more excited than in past years.”
According to the Small Business Saturday website, there are a number of business support organizations in Chester County and the region helping retailers mark the day. In addition to the West Chester chamber, 2016 Neighborhood Champions of the program include: 2nd Century Alliance in Coatesville, Downingtown Main Street Association, Oxford Main Street and Oxford Arts Alliance, Phoenixville Regional Chamber of Commerce, West Whiteland Township Park and Recreation, and the Chester County Chamber of Business & Industry.
For 2nd Century, the day represents an opportunity to have retailers in Coatesville work together to draw traffic to the city, said Sonia Huntzinger,
economic development administrator of the business support organization.
“This is the first time Coatesville has really had a chance to do this in an organized fashion,” said Huntzinger, who started in Coatesville in March. The effort this year is concentrated on Lincoln Highway between First and Third avenues.
“I’ve had huge success with this in other communities,” Huntzinger noted on Wednesday. “It’s been a while since they’ve collectively worked together so I’m really looking forward to seeing how it works out.”
Retailers in towns that have participated in Small Business Saturday in recent years have seen sales increase by double digits over sales of the previous year, she added.
“This is such a big day for them,” Huntzinger said.
As in other towns, Downingtown has been active in recent weeks on social media drumming up support for the borough’s retailers, said Steve Plaugher, Downingtown Main Street Manager.
That, combined with the national Small Business Saturday television advertisements, has brought more traffic to Downingtown in recent years, Plaugher said.
“We encourage all of our stores that are normally open Saturday to take part,” he said. “It puts our businesses on the radar.”
In West Chester, meanwhile, the borough plans to address any parking concerns visitors might have.
Parking is free until 5 p.m. at the on-street meters and lots. The Justice Center Garage at 220 W. Market St. also is free all day.
Small Business Saturday was started in 2010 by American Express to recognize and encourage shoppers to patronize local small business owners — shops, restaurants, bakeries, coffee shops, insurance agents, pet services and other businesses in the community.
The event has grown steadily as more people have become aware and more communities put the focus on the day. Last year, a record estimated 95 million Americans shopped at small businesses on Small Business Saturday. This year, consumers plan to spend record amounts at small businesses, according to the results from the fifth annual Small Business Saturday Consumer Insights Survey, conducted by the National Federation of Independent Businesses and American Express.
Nearly half of the respondents (48 percent) who are aware of Small Business Saturday and who plan to shop said they expect to spend more on the day this year than last year. Two- thirds of respondents said they plan to spend at least $100 on the day.
“We’re trying to get people to shop locally downtown or in the borough. The economy grows with people supporting local businesses,” said Sheila Dugan, Pottstown’s Main Street Manager. The Pottstown Downtown Improvement District Authority is a supporter of the initiative. “If you make a purchase at a big box store it helps that company’s headquarters. It’s a conscious mindset we need to look at in order to improve the economics of our community.”
Dugan said that she has noticed an increase in downtown businesses getting involved in Small Business Saturday — posting promotional materials and offering specials to bring customers in.
“Each year gets a little bit easier to promote and talk about, and this year we’re focusing on thinking local,” Dugan said. “How can they support the restaurants? Go buy gift cards. That supports and promotes the businesses and brings people back.”
This is the third year the TriCounty Area Chamber of Commerce has been a Neighborhood Champion for Small Business Saturday.
“We use it as an opportunity to promote shopping locally to our chamber members. It is about building awareness — on the part of the consumer as well as the businesses,” said Eileen Dautrich, president of the TriCounty Area Chamber of Commerce. “For organizations like ours and Sheila’s (PDIDA), it’s being able to get the word out to tell people there’s a way to support and promote local business.”
American Express provides materials that can be distributed to businesses to help them promote the day.
Among the materials are canvas shopping bags, stickers, pens, posters, buttons, tent cards and balloons.
“There’s also a heart, where the business owner can print the business name in and encourage people to hold the heart up and take a selfie and promote it on social media,” Dautrich added.
The Coventry Mall will participate in Small Business Saturday this year, organizing a display in conjunction with some local small businesses, according to Steve Batten, mall manager.
From noon to 5 p.m. on Saturday, display tables will be set up throughout the mall.
According to a news release, Coventry Mall “wants people to be aware of the local businesses both inside and outside of the mall that provide various products and services to area.”
A Downingtown merchant prepares for this year’s Small Business Saturday in a Downingtown Main Street Association Facebook posting.
Gay Street in West Chester is shown on a recent Small Business Saturday.
A poster trumpeting Small Business Saturday hangs in Coatesville, as shown on 2nd Century Alliance’s Facebook page.