On Friday, the big box retailer was king.
But shoppers in and around Boston were browsing the aisles of local businesses Saturday, many searching for the perfect holiday gift, and enjoying the cozy atmosphere of mom-and-pop stores.
They were spurred in part by Small Business Saturday, a promotion aimed at driving customers to local brick-and-mortar shops between Black Friday, the traditional kickoff to the holiday shopping season, and its cousin, Cyber Monday, when online retailers offer deep discounts.
While some store owners said they thought the promotion would be better suited to the week before Thanksgiving, when it would have star billing, the general consensus on Saturday was that the initiative was helping businesses.
In Jamaica Plain, Kim Mitchell , owner of Boing! JP’s Toy Shop, said that last year she did about three times more business on Small Business Saturday than on Black Friday.
“This is a toy holiday,” she said. “I’ll probably sell two dollhouses from January to December, and then I’ll sell five in December because that’s when people are willing to spend more.”
She said the store faces stiff competition from larger retailers, which can buy high volumes of last year’s stock and sell it cheaply.
“Where I try to make up the difference is in service, ease of shopping, and giving back to the community, like donating to schools,” Mitchell said.
Adrienne Korman, a retired MetLife employee who lives in the neighborhood, said she came to the store to do some early Christmas shopping specifically because of the promotion.
“It’s important to support your local businesses, and I try to do it as much as possible, though sometimes the bigger stores are cheaper,” Korman said.
American Express began supporting Small Business Saturday in 2010, launching a promotion to give cardholders $25 back one time when they spend that much at a qualifying store.
In the Porter Square section of Cambridge, Amy Barth, manager of Susanna, a neighborhood women’s clothier that has been in business for three decades, said she noticed a slight uptick in customer traffic during the promotion last year.
“People get excited about it,” Barth said of the $25 offer from American Express. “Why wouldn’t you use it?”
Soon after speaking to a reporter, Barth had a lengthy conversation with Bee Jouett, 54, a frequent customer who lives in Medford, about a shirt she was trying on. Jouett said that level of service and attention is one reason she remains loyal to the store.
“I’ve always loved Susanna’s, and I love supporting small businesses,” she said. “I feel like I’ve seen the same people working here for decades.”
Barth said Susanna has managed to weather the difficult economic times in recent years by maintaining a loyal customer base that expects high-quality service as well as competitive prices.
“Customer service is why we’re still here,” she said.
Up the street at abodeon, a family-run business that offers vintage and modern handcrafted items, longtime customer and neighborhood resident Robin Kelsey, 51, was shopping with his family.
He said shops like abodeon offer unique inventory, unlike many large retailers.
“You can find things here that you can’t find anywhere else,” he said. “Everything here seems to have a purpose.”
Kelsey said he also prefers shopping locally because of the community experience.
“We see people that we know all the time in this store and other stores around the neighborhood,” he said.
Kelsey joked that “staying out of malls keeps me young.”
Emily Anderson, manager of abodeon, said that while she is against credit cards, she believes the promotion is a good thing.
“The idea is to spend money, and we’re in retail,” she said.
The federal government was also plugging the shop local movement on Saturday afternoon.
Karen G. Mills, administrator of the US Small Business Administration, attended an annual tree lighting in Roslindale in Adams Park, where she praised local businesses and said the Obama administration is working hard to support their efforts.
She said during brief remarks that the president is “very much appreciative of all that the small business owners are doing right now. His pledge and my pledge is that we will do everything to help this economy grow so that small business owners in this town and across America can prosper.”
Ruth Kennedy, the owner of Birch Flower Shop, which is located just off the park, said Small Business Saturday has helped the flower shop that her family started more than 70 years ago.
And, she said, Roslindale Village Main Street, a local nonprofit, has injected life into the neighborhood’s commercial district.
“I know all the changes [in Roslindale], and it’s on the upswing now,” she said.