Brittany Shimmin, who owns Vive Juicery on Broadway, has organized a “shop small crawl” on Small Business Saturday annually for the past three years. But this year, the event seems to be gaining a foothold.
Past years, Shimmin said, featured just a dozen or so small shops. But this year had 26 participating businesses, and Shimmin said she expected about twice as many customers to visit Vive during the event than on a usual day.
This isn’t unique to Salt Lake City: Small Business Saturday, as the day after Black Friday has been dubbed, is increasingly important to small, locally owned businesses.
Small Business Saturday began in 2010, largely as an American Express initiative intended to provide more incentives for their cardholders, said Kristen Lavelett, executive director of Local First Utah. Since then, local business owners like Shimmin have claimed the event as their own, coordinating city-wide sales and spearheading advertising campaigns.
As these events have grown, they’ve become increasingly important to locally owned shops, which like their larger competitors are also struggling to lure shoppers away from online retail, said Candace Daly, Utah state director for the National Federation of Independent Businesses.
“Around the holidays, all sales are important,” Daly said. “And the bigger Small Business Saturday gets, the better small businesses on Main Street do. It’s key. It’s way key.”
Because they lack the scale necessary to launch large advertising campaigns or offer deep discounts, small businesses depend heavily on developing a reliable customer base, Daly said. Events like Small Business Saturday help attract new customers who may become regulars, which in turn helps locally-owned shops grow and become better able to compete with box stores and, increasingly, online retailers.
As the event has grown, so has the public’s awareness of the initiative — this year you might have even noticed a few Small Business Saturday ads among all the Black Friday hype, Daly said.
In Salt Lake City, Modern Family actor and local resident Reid Ewing helped small shops drum up some publicity by touring the Broadway business district with city officials.
Ewing said he’d bought several books from Ken Sanders Rare Books, the first stop on the tour. But Vive, their second and last stop, was a new find for him, he said.
Ewing, a seven-year resident of Salt Lake, said small local businesses are what make the city unique.
“You’re not experiencing Salt Lake unless you visit these one-of-a-kind shops,” he said. “Without small businesses, Salt Lake looks like any other town with a Walmart.”
This is an added benefit of Small Business Saturday, Lavelett said. Though geared toward increasing revenues at locally-owned shops, the event also encourages a sense of community that she said she fears is waning as more people shop and communicate exclusively online.
“Come spend time with your neighbors,” she said. “Be a part of you’re community…. We’re so isolated from people, that there is a lot of value in that experience.”
Daly, who said she lived hours away from the nearest big box store while growing up in rural Utah, agreed with Lavelett.
“When I was growing up, it was all small businesses in the small communities where I lived, and everyone had a sense of community,” she said. “That’s what small businesses can bring back, is a sense of community.”