Views split on shopping day

HOLLIDAYSBURG – You probably won’t see fistfights for deals or arrests over door-buster sales in downtown Hollidaysburg today. But in their own low-key way, small businesses in tightly knit towns are working to answer the headline-grabbing Black Friday offers that draw thousands to their larger competitors.

At 4 years old, “Small Business Saturday” is still in its infancy. The shopping day – originated by a credit card company to join Black Friday and its newer competitors, Cyber Monday and “Gray Thursday” – has drawn support from industry groups and chambers of commerce, who say it could lend much-needed support to independent stores.

Asked Friday, local business owners’ responses were mixed: Small Business Saturday is growing, they said, but it’s far from the shopping frenzy that marks the preceding two days. Its success this year could depend on public awareness and an

uncertain shopping season nationwide.

“We’re all about it,” Chrissey Wagner, owner of Jems Funky Consignments and More, said Friday as customers wandered the Hollidaysburg shop. “We’re offering specials. But we don’t do the tramp-down-the-door thing.”

Like their larger counterparts, some businesses slashed prices for Black Friday or the following Saturday. A sign outside Penny Lane, a furniture store that shares Jems’ location, read “Black Friday 50%.”

For many shops, though, Small Business Saturday isn’t so much a day for massive sales as a reason to attract holiday business to a single downtown area.

“We’re independent. I’m the decision-maker. There’s no one from corporate telling me” about required sales, Beerbower Jewelers owner Don Beerbower said. Beerbower said he’s offering a one-day sale on watches, but for the most part, there’s less pressure for the kind of extreme, short-term deals customers see at department stores.

“As [Small Business Saturday] keeps going forward, it gets better. It draws people’s attention,” he said.

It’s a day seemingly well-suited for small, walkable towns: Alongside Hollidaysburg, Bedford business groups have urged shoppers to walk the borough’s business district today.

“I do think it’s yet to mature,” Downtown Bedford Inc. Manager Tonya Grimes said of the shopping day. “But I have noticed a lot of posts on Facebook … A lot of our community members are saying, ‘Hey, for Small Business Saturday, I’m going to shop local.'”

Broader expectations for the day vary, with its promoters – the National Federation of American Businesses and American Express – citing polls that show a one-year doubling in business owners’ willingness to pay for Small Business Saturday-specific advertising. Of those familiar with the day, two-thirds said they’ll offer specific discounts or sales.

High expectations could be tempered by predictions, including by financial firm Morgan Stanley, that this year’s holiday shopping season could be the worst since 2008.

On Friday, the split between big-box stores and small businesses was clear: Cars packed the Logan Town Centre parking lot through the day, while in Hollidaysburg, a handful of families quietly window-shopped along Allegheny Street.

But some shoppers in the borough sang the praises of small stores and said they’re well aware of the shopping day.

“I don’t pay attention to it at all because I always shop down here,” said Dave Rose of Hollidaysburg.

“I think people know about it – it does encourage them to go out,” said Herb Rose of Great Falls, Va., walking the borough with him. “I think people do [support] them more that day than any other day of the year.”

For Beerbower, Small Business Saturday carries a positive message, but it takes more than one day to keep a business afloat.

“We need the business 365 days a year,” he said. “You see these small towns, and you don’t see the little mom-and-pop stores. … You don’t see the history, the personal knowledge.”