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Small Businesses Hope for Busy Holiday Season

Small Business Saturday could encourage residents to shop local this weekend.

While many residents will flock out of Fox Point and Bayside to the biggest department stores Friday looking for the best discounts, local businesses hope shoppers will remember them, too.

And on Saturday, businesses hope people will make an extra effort to patronize local shops for Small Business Saturday, a promotional event in its second year spearheaded by American Express.

Organizers expect millions of Americans will shop at small businesses to earn rewards such as $25 statement credits for American Express card members who spend $25 or more at a qualifying small business. More than 2 million people "like" the event's Facebook page.

At in Fox Point, owner Carmelo Fazzari said he expects a good crowd following Thanksgiving.

"People come in Friday, Saturday and Sunday because they don’t want to eat the leftovers," Fazzari said. "Every day is good food here, so we don’t have to do anything special."

Also reacting to holiday habits, Yoga One in Fox Point is offering a 1.5-hour Thanksgiving Day Turkey Buster class for all levels. Anyone can attend the class as a drop-in for $13.

Fazzari said he thinks Fox Point is a good atmosphere for small business because residents like to stay local.

"They really support their own," he said. "People don’t want to go downtown with their kids and have to deal with all of that. They’d rather stay in their own community."

Small Business Saturday is partially a reaction to reported slumping in small businesses nationwide. According to a report conducted by American Express OPEN Independent Retail Index, locally owned businesses declined from 59 percent in 1990 to 48 percent in 2009 nationally.

However, local business owners are optimistic about the future of small business.

In southeastern Wisconsin, 192 small businesses are members of Local First Milwaukee, a coalition that promotes shopping local for the economic, environmental and social effects on a community.

“We’re not saying it’s wrong to buy things at a chain store. It just means so much more when you buy it locally,” Local First Milwaukee President Pam Mehnert said. “That money stays in Milwaukee and creates jobs here.”

In a survey of the Local First Milwaukee members, Mehnert said 55 percent reported that their businesses were growing — meaning sales are up and they are hiring new employees.

The member businesses have monthly gatherings in which they exchange ideas, and many use each other’s products and services in their stores. 

“Local businesses tend to do business with other local businesses,” Mehnert, who is also the general manager of Outpost Natural Foods, said. “At Outpost, our accountants are local, our attorneys are local, we’re buying packaging supplies local. We work together.”

Mehnert said she thinks one reason people like to support local businesses is because of their responsiveness to individual needs.

“When a supply chain is controlled by larger corporations, they’re actually determining what products are available to customers,” Mehnert said. “It’s this whole complex system of control. But a local bookstore is going to sell titles that aren’t just in the top 100. They’re going to take special requests and provide different services for indivduals.” 

Randall Hoth, president of the Wisconsin Better Business Bureau, said the bureau also supports small locally-controlled businesses because the owners often work directly with consumers and have a deep investment in the community.

Hoth said 90 percent of Wisconsin businesses who are accredited with the Better Business Bureau and pledge to uphold its code of ethics are small business owners with 25 or fewer employees. Eighty percent have ten or fewer employees.  

“I think it’s a huge thing for the consumer to know that you’re doing business face-to-face with an owner that cares about your business,” Hoth said. “They’re the ones pledging to do the right thing for their customers.”

Hoth said he hopes consumer appreciation for small businesses extends beyond Small Business Saturday.

“It’s not just for one Saturday that we’re supporting this,” he said. “We think small businesses are important to the economic future of this country. It’s a really viable and important economic engine for growth.”

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