Business & Real Estate

Small Business Saturday: Merchants think big, customers seek interactions

Crowds, discounts and marathon shopping — Black Friday 2017

More than half of America plans to shop this holiday weekend. The discounts may not be as good as last year, but that's not stopping the 164 million who say they'll shop online or visit a store.
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More than half of America plans to shop this holiday weekend. The discounts may not be as good as last year, but that's not stopping the 164 million who say they'll shop online or visit a store.

A handful of customers and employees moved around The Allspicery on Saturday afternoon in downtown Sacramento, tall wooden shelves filled with spices surrounding them. White labels covered the front of neatly lined glass jars, each holding a different spice or seasoning ranging from habañero sugar to a deep yellow-colored curry powder.

The shop was one of dozens of businesses in Sacramento participating in Small Business Saturday, a national event sandwiched between Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

The event aims to bring customers, and their spending money, into locally owned businesses at the start the holiday season as an alternative to the big-box retailers offering slashed prices, sometimes at the cost of long lines and large crowds, following the Thanksgiving holiday.

For Heather Wong, owner of The Allspicery, Small Business Saturday is a way to gauge how the shop will fare during the holiday season, as well as an opportunity to invite new customers into the store’s doors, located steps from the state Capitol.

“It’s not something we take for granted,” Wong said. “Depending on how busy things are or how things sell (Saturday), that’s kind of how we’ll project our forecast for the month.”

This year was the first time the Downtown Sacramento Partnership, the Midtown Association and the R Street Sacramento Partnership jointly hosted the local event, said Jordyn Anderson, a spokeswoman for the Downtown Sacramento Partnership, a commercial district representing businesses and property owners.

The city of Sacramento also chipped in, offering free metered parking for shoppers throughout the day. Sacramento Regional Transit provided free shuttle rides every 20 minutes beginning at 9:30 a.m., with pick-up and drop-off points scattered between midtown, downtown and Old Sacramento, Anderson said.

The added incentives, including discounted prices by some of the local shops, are meant to bring more people into different commercial districts in the central city, said John Adair, a spokesman for the Midtown Association. He hopes their collaborative efforts could lead to more businesses and a larger event in future years, he said.

“I think it’s an extra boost for people in the central city,” he said. “It’s beginning to be more of a unique shopping experience.”

That experience included a flower display at 24th and J streets, as well as one street down on K Street, created by Alicia Relles. As she arranged a bright display of roses, lilies, asters and tulips hanging from a nearby tree, Relles said the shop has been in her family for decades and prioritizes selling other artist’s work along with flower arrangements.

“Unfortunately, a lot of people chose big-box retailers instead of helping us little guys,” she said. “We need people to choose small boutiques.”

The “Flower Flash” installation, as Relles called it, was intended to catch people’s attention to the store and entice them to come inside.

Kailyn Topper, an Antelope resident, said she came to Sacramento on Saturday specifically to support the small businesses in the city. She skipped the Black Friday lines to spend time with her family outdoors and was looking forward to seeing the goods local Sacramento shops had to offer while talking to business owners face-to-face.

She was leery of how much savings costumers truly netted during Black Friday sales and questioned whether shoppers were buying products just because they were on sale.

“Every place I’ve gone into, I’ve had a conversation with the employees and the owners,” Topper said of Saturday’s event. “To me, I’m not as focused on saving money but rather making my money worthwhile.”

Grace and John Lewis, accompanied by their four daughters in downtown Sacramento on Saturday, said they also skipped Black Friday shopping.

“It’s too crowded,” Grace Lewis said of Black Friday. “We’re here to spend family time, see what (the local shops) have.”

American Express started Small Business Saturday in 2010, and the event has continued to grow since its inception, according to the Small Business Saturday website.

Last year, an estimated 112 million people shopped on Small Business Saturday, a survey commissioned by American Express and the National Federation of Independent Business found. The same survey estimated that the event generated $15.4 billion dollars the same year.

Nashelly Chavez: 916-321-1188, @nashellytweets