The Little Light Collective vintage co-op has seen a dip in traffic since the summer, so Small Business Saturday will mean even more than in a normal year.
When the Clintonville shop opened in August 2020, it employed strict COVID-19 protocols, like limiting the number of people in the store.
“I think early on people felt excited for something new and something that felt really safe,” said owner April Rhodes, 36, of Clintonville. “Sales have tapered off because people feel like there’s so many more options and other places to spend money. It’s hard to gauge, but I think right now our sales are starting to level back off. We’re at about what we were last year.”
So the collective is trying something different on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, an occasion used to highlight small businesses. The majority women co-op will invite men-owned businesses to pop up and there will be giveaways, as well as treats sold by a local bakery.
Locally owned businesses: 10 Columbus Black-owned businesses you can support this holiday season
The collective is not the only area retailer hoping to benefit from the day after Black Friday, which American Express and the nonprofit National Trust for Historic Preservation dubbed "Small Business Saturday" in 2010. Black Friday typically benefits big box stores and other national chains, and the idea was to shine a light on smaller businesses.
Local mom-and-pop vendors, however, report mixed results from the occasion.
Rhodes hedged some financial risk thanks to the collective's multi-vendor model; vendors pay to rent booths, which helps her pay rent on the building. She has maintained a consistent core staff and the vendors help cover shifts.
Black Friday 2021: Fewer discounts, and a return to the mall
While other small businesses have had to incorporate an e-commerce model during the pandemic, Little Light Collective is better suited for in-person shopping, due to its inventory of one-of-a-kind items. The store does rely on social media promotion, and allows customers to purchase by phone.
The business also offers delivery and contactless curbside pickup.
Holiday season especially crucial to small retailers
Local entrepreneurs like Rhodes are depending heavily on the holidays this year, especially after a 2020 Christmas shopping season hampered by fears of COVID and a migration to online retail.
“I definitely feel very anxious,” she said. “I feel like this is a really important time for people to come support and shop. I did pick away at my savings throughout the summer to keep paying bills, even though I have all my vendors in-house. It just felt like we were always stretched a little thinner, so I’m relying on this to help me make it through the next few months.”
Little Light Collective will kick off a “shop hop tour,” encouraging customers to patronize select businesses in Clintonville. They will be provided with passports, which they can get stamped at the stores throughout the holiday season. Then, they can turn the passports in for a prize—including items from all of the businesses—worth over $500.
“We believe that community and sharing the spotlight with other stores only raises you up,” Rhodes said. “We’re not competition; we’re all in this together.”
Whether or not Small Business Saturday lifts the region's mom-and-pop retailers, however, depends on who you ask.
"It does help," said Enas Lanham, who owns the Dublin Toy Emporium in the Bridge Park development. "For people who really do care about local business, it can be an incentive."
She is mostly optimistic about this coming Small Business Saturday.
"We see a lot of support in the community, and seeing that makes me think it will be a really good day," she said. "I feel like people know what small businesses have been through (during the pandemic) and they are trying to show their support."
Blissful Trends owner Nupur Abbas, on the other hand, expects a few extra customers at her Worthington Mall gift shop on Small Business Saturday, but does not foresee a flood of new shoppers.
"It depends" she said. "A lot of regulars will come and they are the people into supporting small businesses anyway."
While big box stores are known to offer generous discounts around the holidays, Abbas doesn't predict many smaller retailers will put items on sale thanks to the financial headaches stemming from supply chain disruptions and spikes in the cost of goods small businesses depend on.
Businesses like hers need every dollar they can get, she said.
Every business is different, and some are better able to take advantage of holiday shopping than others.
Abbas said headlines about the Worthington Mall's uncertain future, for example, have pushed potential customers to other shopping centers.
"I had to send text message blast to all our customers saying, 'We are still here, we want to be here, and we will be open,' " she said.
For Connie Jacob, who owns Learning Express Toys in Upper Arlington, a holiday celebrating small businesses is less about a sales boost (even if her store sees extra customers) and more about reminding people why it's important to shop at your local corner store.
Most of her staff lives in her community, and supporting stores like hers is "a way to give back to the community," she said.
"We love Small Business Saturday," she said. "The reason why we think it's so darn important, is it's a great reminder to customers that we're here."
This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Small Business Saturday: Columbus shops say support is important