Black Friday may be known for its doorbuster deals and Cyber Monday for its deeply discounted offers online, but sandwiched in between is Small Business Saturday — a shopping holiday with an emphasis on community.
The American Express-sponsored day, which falls on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, is all about supporting small local businesses.
Anthony DeSalis, co-owner of Tons of Toys in Bernardsville, New Jersey, has participated the last three years and has seen sales and foot traffic increase each time. The small retailer, one of five locations in the northern part of the state, has a lot riding on the season — about 50 percent of its sales come in the last quarter of the year.
"We pride ourselves on our service," he said. "We do free gift wrap, free delivery for local people, and we go above and beyond. I think there is a strong push and grassroots movement for 'Shop Small.'"
And that movement is growing rapidly. American Express reported sales of $16.2 billion in 2015, up from $14.5 billion the year prior, with 95 million customers reporting shopping small at local retailers, salons, restaurants and more.
While there are not any dollar projections for this year, early research from Amex and the National Federation of Independent Business showed 76 percent of consumers who knew of the retail event said they planned to support a local business this year, and 48 percent said they planned to spend more than they did last year, a new high.
Mother-daughter team Georgia Rossi and Jennifer Walsh own Bling, a jewelry and accessories store also located in Bernardsville, and they have seen a larger push in the community to shop small in the past few years.
"Small Business Saturday really works," Rossi said. "People do come out. I checked my numbers, and last year I did five times the amount of sales on Saturday than I did on Black Friday."
In Dublin, California, Alicia Shaffer is hoping for the same local support. This Small Business Saturday will be different for her this year, since it's her first with a brick-and-mortar location. Shaffer found success online, particularly as an Etsy retailer, selling handmade headbands and other accessories.
This year, she decided to go against the grain and open a physical location, expanding her offerings with more clothes and accessories. Like DeSalis, she wants to interact and offer a better experience for her customer base.
"We want to offer our customers an amazing, custom shopping experience they can't get anywhere else," Shaffer said. "To be able to touch and feel Three Bird Nest, and we can also show them pieces in store that they normally wouldn't have tried."
While Shaffer has maintained her e-commerce presence, Tons of Toys does not do any online retailing, making it a rarity in today's shift to e-commerce even among local sellers. However, the store markets heavily throughout the weekend offering Black Friday and "Anti-Cyber Monday" deals on site.
Customers like Christine Kelly say shopping local is important to keep communities thriving, and spending a little extra is well worth it.
"I think it's important to shop downtown to keep businesses going," Kelly said. "We have a lot of empty storefronts that I've noticed — what small businesses offer is a boutique feel and individualized purchasing.
"You might pay a little bit more, but you know what you are getting isn't just a product — you are buying a personal connection you're making with someone in the community."