As the holiday season gets underway, across the country and from town to town the mantra is repeated and the challenge is issued: Shop Local. Support Small Businesses. Shop Small.  This year more than ever there is a growing awareness and support of the impact that small businesses have on our communities and the economy.

In 2010, American Express identified a problem that many small businesses face—how to bring in more customers.  The credit card giant founded Small Business Saturday as a means to encourage people to patronize their local businesses and selected a weekend that epitomizes shopping: the weekend after Thanksgiving. That single day has grown into a powerful movement, and each year more people are taking the pledge to Shop Small and backing it up with their wallets.

In only five years, the Shop Small movement has become a tradition and Small Business Saturday is firmly grounded between Black Friday and Cyber Monday. What better day to celebrate the quality, service and offerings that we can find at our local merchants and small businesses?  Black Friday is all about Big—“Big Box” stores, Big Doorbuster Sales, Big crowds and Big lines.  Having never experienced a Black Friday shopping expedition (I value my sleep and sanity far too much), I’ve always been puzzled by the attraction.  Other than electronics, most of the “bargains” I see advertised are generic mass produced goods that would hardly elicit a joyful gasp from the recipient.

On the other hand, the Mid- Ohio Valley has plenty of stores and businesses that provide unique goods and services. After a day of frenzied bargain hunting for the elusive must-have toy or imported electronics, Small Business Saturday is like a refreshing journey back to a slower time.  When you enter a local business you are welcomed and acknowledged as a valuable visitor.  You may be greeted with the smell of warm cider or offering of holiday treats. The manager (often the owner) and staff are often passionate about their products and are available to answer questions, help you locate an item or even place a special order. And that is the essence of shopping small—the experience is often as valuable as the product itself.

Friends shopping the wares at H.Rietz & Company Antiques on Front Street.

If you’ve been to Easton outside of Columbus, you’ve enjoyed the design of a shopping “village” with attractive shops and outdoor spaces enhanced with fountains and benches.  Sound familiar?  That’s because developers are trying to reproduce what we already have in downtown Marietta.  Generic shopping strips and malls are losing their appeal as communities revitalize or strengthen their downtown business districts and offer visitors a personal, interactive experience. And when you spend time and money downtown, you are making a much greater investment than just dollars.

According to Dr. Tom LaSalvia, Professor of Economics at Marietta College, the more we patronize downtown the more we help to develop the very sort of downtown that current and potential residents want to have. He explains “Downtown areas have maximum attractiveness to individuals (especially those on-the-fence about using downtown) when there is a sense of “life” on the streets and in the shops.  That “life” or “energy” or “vibrancy” comes from the presence of many people using downtown at once.”   When that vibrancy is consistent the message is sent to companies and potential users that success is possible, that this town is a desirable place to do business, spend time, and live.

Although the numbers vary among different reporting agencies, one thing is certain—when you spend your money locally, a much greater percentage of that money stays in the community.  (roughly 70% spent at small businesses as opposed to roughly 40% spent at non-locally owned). Those numbers have a significant impact on the local economy. Remember the owners and staffs of these small businesses are also your neighbors, fellow churchgoers and community leaders.  The Seattle Good Business Network reported that small businesses donate 250% more than larger businesses to non-profits and community causes.  Whether it’s a local hardware store, family run restaurant or Front Street boutique—small businesspeople are quick to support local causes and join charitable organizations.

Colorful housewares at Simple Pleasures, on Front Street.

If you visit a small business in the Mid-Ohio Valley on Saturday, you will experience the pleasure of discovering quality items in friendly shops. Best of all, when you shop local, you are expressing your support and faith in these hard working business people.  It’s easy for us to admire their entrepreneurial spirits and perseverance, but we need to back that support with our dollars.  If you believe that shopping small means spending more, you may not be familiar with the wide range of price points offered in these stores.  There is truly something for everyone, and you can find that special something without the long lines, crowded parking lots and harried salespeople.

This year’s Small Business Saturday promises to be even more engaging and fun than previous years. The festive décor and scheduled activities will help even the biggest Grinch among us achieve holiday spirit. Because the Marietta Chamber of Commerce has registered to be a “Neighborhood Champion” with the Shop Small program, American Express has provided marketing tools and promotional ideas to develop a cohesive campaign among participating merchants and businesses. In-store and cooperative sales and promotions are geared toward providing value and a positive shopping experience.  Beginning Saturday, a week-long contest will allow shoppers to win American Express gift cards and other incentives.

This year, the post-Thanksgiving weekend will be Marietta’s official kick-off to the holiday season.  Small Business Saturday is an integral part of the weekend and I guarantee that after spending some time and money in our local shops, you will have the warm satisfaction of doing good and shopping well.  And I believe you’ll also discover that Marietta and the Mid-Ohio Valley provide multitudes of year-round reasons to Shop Small and Shop Local.