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What is Small Business Saturday and why does It matter?

Published: Thursday, Nov. 21 2013 3:03 p.m. MST

The owner of Merz Apothecary in Chicago prepares for the increase of traffic expected on Small Business Saturday after a front window makeover thanks to designer Simon Doonan.

John Konstantaras, Associated Press images for American Express Open

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I’m one of those people who won’t be doing any shopping on Thanksgiving Day.

It’s not that I’m up in arms about the big box retailers who believe they can get thousands of people to visit their stores to find “super” pre-Black Friday deals (they probably will); nor do I think big box retailers are evil and trying to subvert what many people think should be a family holiday (though I think it should). I’m simply not a fan of what I feel is the contrived nature of Black Friday, or even Cyber Monday.

That being said, I have a daughter-in-law or two who wake up early in the morning on Black Friday to stake out the best deal on this or that. I think it’s more about the thrill of the hunt than whether or not they find any incredible deals, but that’s just my take from the outside looking in. I didn’t ask because they probably wouldn’t want me to mention them in this piece. That said, I likely will hit the streets on the Saturday after Thanksgiving — Small Business Saturday — if only to visit my favorite local restaurant, La Costa.

It’s not that I’m anti-big box or national chain either — but I do consider myself to be very pro-local merchant. I’m not a purist though, like every one else I know, I do shop at the national hardware stores, I sometimes eat at chain restaurants and I usually get my car serviced at the local franchise of a national company. Nevertheless, I consider the shop where I take my car a local business because the franchise owner/operators are local, I eat at locally owned restaurants more than national chains, and if the economy of the big box is greater than that of most small countries, I avoid shopping there as much as I can. And yes, I know I’m rationalizing.

In 2010, American Express (in what I consider a brilliant move to promote their brand to local Main Street merchants) introduced the idea of Small Business Saturday. The idea was to encourage shoppers to spend a part of their holiday shopping budget in brick-and-mortar businesses that are small and local. I like the idea because I’m convinced that these very Main Street merchants are the lifeblood of our communities.

When I’m not working, I’m usually on my Harley chasing whatever it is over the next hill and consequentially spend a lot of time in many of the smaller communities along the highway. Some seem to be struggling, while others have been able to keep (at least what appears to be) a thriving community going. One of the more obvious manifestations is a vibrant Main Street business community with what appears to be healthy small businesses.

Of course, the bigger the city the more likely these same Main Streets have been infiltrated by national chains and even a big box or two. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing, but I do think it’s important to remember the local merchants that are the heart and soul of our communities — particularly on Small Business Saturday — but hopefully that isn’t the only day.

I’m sure there will be those who ask, “If I can buy something cheaper at MegaMart, why should I spend more at a local business?”

It’s a fair question.

Two out of every three new jobs created in our economy are in the smallest small business, the Main Street-type businesses that do our dry cleaning, repair and service our automobiles and often serve us dinner. What’s more, about half of the U.S. workforce is employed there — which means you likely work in one of these businesses. I’ve spent almost my entire career in one or another of them too. Collectively, they play an incredibly important role in our economy, a role that isn’t taken up by their big box counterparts.

How’s that for a good reason?

I’m planning on stopping for lunch at my favorite restaurant and checking out a local bookstore. What local small business are you going to patronize on Small Business Saturday?

As a main street business evangelist and marketing veteran with more than 25 years in the trenches, Ty Kiisel writes about leading people and small-business issues for lendio.com.

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