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For Small Business Saturday, local shop owners tout customer service, personal touch

·4 min read

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas and America's Main Streets are ready for one of their biggest days of the year – Small Business Saturday on Nov. 27.

Small Business Saturday began in 2010 as an effort to boost small business sales as many consumers preferred big box stores over locally owned locations. According to the Small Business Administration, Americans spent $19.6 billion on Small Business Saturday in 2019. In the nine years prior to that, the US Chamber of Commerce stated consumers spent an average of $11.1 billion each year but that number had grown to approximately $20 billion in 2020.

Small Business Saturday was created by American Express in 2010.
Small Business Saturday was created by American Express in 2010.

For The Book Tavern owner David Hutchison, the day was previously his biggest sales day for multiple years. That changed in April on Independent Bookstore Day, but Hutchison said it's possible this year's Small Business Saturday could surpass it.

He said the experience for customers shopping in downtown Augusta or at other local businesses is much different compared to Black Friday shopping in big box stores.

"For us, Small Business Saturday is a day for us to focus on what we do best which is customer service, engaging with people and helping them find books for people that they are shopping for," he said. "There's no camping out. It's more of coming out and enjoying a festive and traditional Christmas."

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Down the street at Art on Broad, business partners and sisters Kristin Varn and Catherine Alexander are gearing up to offer customers refreshments and a door prize. Like Hutchison, they said Small Business Saturday wasn't their biggest day of sales over the last year but it was definitely one of the biggest. The Saturday before Christmas took top honors in their sales record.

"It's truly our bread and butter," Alexander said.

The Book Tavern and Art on Broad are two of nine participants in the Small Business Saturday Crawl downtown. Festivities kick off at Augusta & Co. at 10 a.m. where the first 200 shoppers will receive a complimentary Love Augusta tote. Participating businesses will distribute a button if a purchase is made from the location. Each button collected is one entry for a grand prize giveaway valued at over $300 and contains items from all participating locations including coffee beans from The Bee's Knees and a candle from Augusta Candle Company.

Augusta & Co. will also have a free DIY gift wrapping station throughout the day.

"Our biggest dream was that we could return that downtown shopping experience that people might remember from their childhood where it's very community focused and people focused," Hutchison said.

The first 200 shoppers to arrive at Augusta & Co. on Small Business Saturday – Nov. 27, 2021 – will receive a complimentary tote. All shoppers will also receive a button at each participating retail store after a purchase is made.
The first 200 shoppers to arrive at Augusta & Co. on Small Business Saturday – Nov. 27, 2021 – will receive a complimentary tote. All shoppers will also receive a button at each participating retail store after a purchase is made.

The boost in sales would be beneficial for locally owned businesses who have struggled since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. Hutchison said things are "not all roses" but getting better.

"It is more important than ever to support our small retail businesses in downtown Augusta," Margaret Woodard, executive director of the Downtown Development Authority, said in a prepared statement.

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Russell Lahodny, president/CEO of the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce, said some businesses are still recovering from a decrease in sales.

"When you shop local, you are supporting your neighbor, your family, your in-laws, friends at church – you're supporting them and not just some corporate company that's not based in this area," he said. "Nothing compares to buying local and making sure those dollars stay in our community."

To drum up excitement, the chamber is featuring its members on its social media and encourages shoppers to do the same using the hashtag #shopsmallcolumbiacountyga.

Chaney Schumacher, manager of Low Country Clothier in Martinez, said the store will feature sales throughout the weekend to attract customers, but Small Business Saturday has traditionally been a big day for the men's clothing store.

"It's a good opportunity for people who are apprehensive about shopping on Black Friday," she said. "It's smaller crowds so it gives a little bit more of a regular shopping experience."

To further promote the local shopping experience, the City of Harlem planned to celebrate Small Business Saturday a week early to get a jump start on the economy-boosting day since so many area residents go out of town, according to Mayor Roxanne Whitaker.

"We are hoping this early kickoff to the Christmas shopping season will help boost our small businesses," she said.

This article originally appeared on Augusta Chronicle: Augusta area stores prepare for Small Business Saturday