Business & Real Estate

Holiday shoppers urged to go small, not mall

Natalie Tramontano marks candy jars at Andy’s Candy Apothecary in Sacramento’s downtown business district Saturday. The candy store is nearing its first full year in business.
Natalie Tramontano marks candy jars at Andy’s Candy Apothecary in Sacramento’s downtown business district Saturday. The candy store is nearing its first full year in business. lsterling@sacbee.com

Andy Paul could be the smiling poster boy for Small Business Saturday.

The owner of Andy’s Candy Apothecary in downtown Sacramento, he runs a little wonderland of sweets that sells German gummy bears, Bakersfield toffee and exotically flavored chocolates handcrafted in Sacramento.

There’s brightly colored candy that looks like fried eggs and chicken feet, and chocolate bars with bits of bacon and potato chips called “Hammond’s Pigs N’ Taters.”

“I love candy,” Paul said. “I’m passionate about finding high-quality candy and chocolate. I keep a collection in my house.”

The candy store, which opened last year, is the type of business American Express likely had in mind when it started its campaign for Small Business Saturday in 2010. The idea is to have a day of local shopping between the chain-store madness of Black Friday and the online deals of Cyber Monday.

Small businesses, in turn, have an incentive to accept American Express cards, which charge merchants higher fees than other payment methods. And AmEx offers shoppers up to $30 in rebates if they use the company’s cards to pay for purchases.

So far the concept seems to be working, with a growing awareness among consumers that there are options to crowded malls and automated websites.

“AmEx has done this five years now. It’s a huge marketing push to support small businesses, which we appreciate,” said Lori Rumsey, owner of the Mother & Baby Source store in downtown Davis.

“People have been using their AmEx cards all day,” she said. “I’m seeing more people making an effort to come out today to support us little guys. There’s been a huge upswing this year.”

A study by the National Federation of Independent Business and American Express found 78 percent of shoppers said they will be spending at least the same or more on Small Business Saturday as they did in 2013.

At Andy’s Candy, shopper Emily Gerber dropped in to buy her favorite malt balls and gummy fish and to check out Advent calendars.

“Small business is the best,” Gerber said. “That’s someone's passion and dream, and you’re helping it continue.”

Supporting small businesses promotes local spending and hiring, and encourages more small businesses to open near successful stores, she said.

Paul said his business has been a hit, with first-year earnings that exceeded his initial projections. He and his wife, Camille Esch, work at the store along with six part-time employees. They also sell online at andyscandystore.com.

The candy store is part of a growing foodie scene downtown, with several high-end restaurants nearby.

Inside it’s a burst of color and eye-catching displays. A glass case features some of the best handmade chocolates from Northern California, including Sacramento’s Puur Chocolat, with flavors such as lychee red curry and lime, shiso and gin.

Paul and Esch opened their store in December 2013 with the help of the Downtown Sacramento Partnership. They won a year’s free rent, $20,000 for startup and construction costs and a variety of free professional services to help them get started in the group’s “Calling All Dreamers” business competition.

The annual competition is meant to foster growth and a richer retail experience in the central city, Paul said. Because of the store’s success, he and Esch recently signed a five-year market-rate lease for their current space at 1012 Ninth St.

The city of Sacramento is also doing its part to encourage holiday shoppers to visit small businesses in midtown, downtown and Old Sacramento. Street parking is free on weekdays after 4:30 p.m. and all day on weekends through Dec. 25 in main commercial areas. The free-parking zone extends from Front Street to 29th Street, and from I to L streets.

The city’s new 4,000 “smart meters” have screens that tell drivers they don’t have to pay.

Call The Bee’s Hudson Sangree, (916) 321-1191.

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