Every year on Black Friday, hordes of shoppers descend on malls and stores in search of extreme bargains. But for some, the crowds and frenzied consumerism are significant turnoffs that outweigh any potential deals.
“I don’t do Black Friday shopping,” said Sarah Perkins, 24, as she browsed the quiet South End shop Felicity Sweets on Saturday. “I refuse to stand in the lines. It’s a circus.”
For Perkins and others like her, the so-called Small Business Saturday shopping promotion is a much more appealing option.
“I like to find unique gifts and treasures, and at big box stores, you don’t tend to find them,” Perkins said. “My parents owned a small business, and I think small businesses are what make our neighborhoods great.”
American Express launched the promotion in 2010, in part to make inroads with small business owners, who have long complained about its high fees. But now, thanks to a national ad campaign and increasing buy-in from local shops, Small Business Saturday has gained momentum. Stores around the Boston area held special events and sales Saturday, hoping to draw in consumers who stayed home during Friday’s big chain rush.
“I was a little bit skeptical the first year, but the consumer has responded,” said Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts. “We have a longstanding New England tradition of beautiful, picturesque downtown main streets, and this a great reminder that if we don’t support them, they’re not going to survive in the future.”
Municipalities have also picked up on the push to shop locally, with some offering free parking or holding their own events to trumpet local businesses that pay into town and city tax coffers.
On Saturday afternoon, Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino headlined a city-sanctioned ceremony in the Roslindale neighborhood featuring live music, a tree lighting, and a tour of nearby shops.
In brief remarks, Menino stressed the importance of community-owned businesses.
“Small businesses are the nucleus of a strong neighborhood. If the business districts aren’t doing well, the neighborhood isn’t doing well,” he said. “You could do all your Christmas shopping in the neighborhoods of Boston.”
Several retailers who spoke with the Globe said it was difficult to know for sure if Small Business Saturday had increased sales, since it comes during the already busy holiday shopping season. But they said the national ad campaign would help educate consumers about the importance of shopping locally.
“We do appreciate this program, if no other reason than it helps create awareness,” said Bruce Pollard, owner of Mud Puddle Toys in Salem. “American Express has national advertising power that goes far beyond what any small business owner could do.”
But Pollard echoed other business owners’ complaints about American Express merchant processing fees.
“To be honest, American Express is the most expensive credit card to accept. They’re almost double what Visa and Mastercard charge,” he said, standing in his shop Saturday.
Still, Mud Puddle Toys, which specializes in classic games and educational toys, was actively promoting Small Business Saturday, including by using a “Shop Small” welcoming mat provided by American Express.
In a complementary effort dubbed “Indies First,” independent bookstores across the country this year invited local authors to come work in their shops for a day, where they can connect face-to-face with fans and recommend their favorite reads. Brookline Booksmith hosted some Boston-area authors Saturday as part of the promotion by the American Booksellers Association.
“It’s starting to become more and more of a holiday,” Brookline Booksmith events director Jamie Tan said about Small Business Saturday.
Tan said that although competing with online retailers is difficult, stores like hers offer value beyond price. She proudly showed off a shelf of books recommended by staffers, with handwritten reviews taped below each one.
“We’re not being paid to write these; we’re writing these because we love these books,” she said. “There’s something personal in each of them. People who shop small are keeping that local personality alive and keeping us here.”
Nearby, 31-year-old Joseph Masiero was browsing for his next read. Visiting from California, Masiero said shopping at small businesses is the best way to get to know a city.
“Whenever I travel, I try to hit the independent stores just to see what the local community is like,” he said. “You go to larger stores and you get kind of a bland flavor. I can go to Barnes & Noble anywhere, but I can’t find this store anywhere else.”