Local shops like ‘Small Business Saturday’ event

Local shops: Small Business Saturday helps holiday sales

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Terri Neil is hoping Small Business Saturday will result in big business for her shop. Again.


Neil owns Artemis Botanicals in the Shoppes at Quail Acres, and from a retail standpoint, the day after Black Friday last year was as sweet as the aromas in her chic bath and body shop.


“Saturday was by far our strongest day” between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Neil said.


The third annual Small Business Saturday will kick off nationwide Saturday morning, one day after the huge and hugely popular Black Friday, the unofficial start of the holiday shopping season that now actually begins Thanksgiving night.


Small Business Saturday was a 2010 creation of American Express, intended to heighten national awareness of local small businesses, such as Neil’s, the other shops in the tidy North Strabane complex off Racetrack Road, and hundreds of similar stores in the region.


It also is a counterpunch of sorts to the big-box stores that rule retail the previous 36 hours.


Did someone say recession?


Earlier in the week of this year’s event, the Observer-Reporter interviewed owners at two local bastions of small business: Quail Acres and Scenery Hill. All said they realized an increase in customers during Small Business Saturday 2011 over the previous November, and anticipate a further uptick on Saturday.


Some believe a spillover of shoppers may give them a boost on Black Friday as well. In their minds, however, Saturday is their day.


“We really noticed an increase last year,” said William Harvey, who owns Elves Lair in Scenery Hill with Clint Boyer. “People made us aware that Small Business Saturday was why they were here.”


“We had a lot of people here (in 2011) and anticipate it being better this time,” said Boyer, who lives in Harrisburg. Their shop specializes in holiday gifts and is marketed as “More than a Christmas Store.”


Harvey, of Scenery Hill, said there is a marked difference in demeanor among his Thanksgiving week customers than those who rush the mass merchandise stores Thanksgiving night through most of Friday.


“Our customers seemed to be in a good mood (at the Saturday 2011 event),” Harvey said. “You go to a mall, everyone seems to be so stressed. They come into a small-town business, they seem to be more relaxed.


“It’s a fun week because people seem to have a good time.”


“Some people don’t go for Black Friday and I’m one of them,” said Kay Keen, of Eighty Four, owner of The Grape Vine. She specializes in resale items “from furniture to clothing to anything for the home.”


Keen, who had a ministroke recently, said she is having “a big sale.” She plans to shut down her shop once her stock is gone.


She loves the Saturday event, saying it was profitable for her a year ago. “I’m behind anything that supports the ordinary man with a small business who is trying to survive.”


This is a busy week for small business merchants, too, for Black Friday is the beginning of their peak season, with extended shop hours. Some will be open every day until nearly Christmas.


The shops in Scenery Hill will be open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. today and Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday. Harvey’s store was open part of Thanksgiving, with the hope that some of the people who had made 400 dinner reservations at the Century Inn would stroll into the shop directly across Route 40.


Jo Beth Barr, of Whitehall, anticipates a bountiful Saturday. She owns Ooh La La, one of two businesses that sell custom-made items within one shop – French Quarter in Quail Acres. The other is Chandelle Chaleur.


She said Small Business Saturday “is the best thing that’s happened to us in a long time. It makes people think about small businesses.


“We did really well last year and expect a better day (Saturday).”


Nancy Komondor, of New Eagle, owns Chandelle Chaleur. She is poised for a bountiful Saturday, having mailed about 100 cards promoting the event to existing customers.


“Sales were up last year,” she said. “Hopefully, we’ll do better this Saturday.”


Although she said American Express “has a really nice TV ad” about Small Business Saturday, “I don’t think the event is promoted as much as it should be. It could use a little more publicity.”


In a neighboring building, Mary Linda Panasko praised the concept. “Whoever thought of it came up with a great idea,” said the owner Country Angels Tea & Coffee, which offers more than 100 varieties each of loose-leaf tea and coffee beans, dining and parties (by reservation) and casual sitdowns with coffee, tea and pastries.


“A lot of people don’t know we’re here,” said Panasko, of Bethel Park.


Phil Schaltenbrand loves the Small Business Saturday concept because of the boost it provides merchants. He said his business — 38-year-old Westerwald Pottery — did benefit from last year’s event, but it was “a little upspike, not significant.”


He is concerned about the business climate in his village in North Bethlehem Township. “We’ve had a slight decline in the town of Scenery Hill,” he said. “We had a small increase (during last November’s event), but you have to weigh it against the Scenery Hill decline.”


Although a seven-days-a-week work regimen is upon her, Neil is enthusiastic about what the weekend may wrought for her Quail Acres bath and body shop. She did, after all, create and nurture Artemis Botanicals as a kiosk in Grand Central Station in New York City, before moving it and herself to North Strabane more than a decade ago.


“This event has been great,” Neil said. “It’s good to see people support local businesses.”


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