A day created to drive holiday shoppers to small, independent businesses  now fuels the year-round habit of shopping small, shopping local at many Quad-City retailers. 

Small Business Saturday was launched in 2010 by American Express to help raise awareness of the contributions of small, locally owned businesses and meet their most pressing need: more customers.

Sandwiched between Black Friday — a day that belongs to the major retailers — and online shopping's Cyber Monday, Small Business Saturday puts a spotlight on small retail stores, restaurants and other independent businesses. 

"We honestly can't compete with Black Friday, and we don't try to," said Julie Keehn of Camp McClellan Cellars, a wine and specialty beer store in the Village of East Davenport. "Small Business Saturday is a good way to remind people there are stores other than Best Buy and Target to shop at."

Keehn, who has owned the store for 23 years with her husband, Tim, said Small Business Saturday has evolved as a "very good day" for sales.

"But there is a strong 'shop local' contingent who realize what it does for the community, and they shop local all year-round," she said.

Amy Trimble's Watermark Corners, located in Moline Centre, will participate in its fourth Small Business Saturday next weekend.

"People are talking about it," the gift shop owner said. "More businesses are asking (one another), 'What are you doing for Small Business Saturday?' The more people talking about it raises awareness for the consumers, too."

Trimble added that it is not only the small businesses that benefit from more shoppers.

"The money stays local if you shop local," she said.

Referencing The 3/50 Project, an online shop-local campaign launched in 2009, she said that for every $100 a consumer spends at a locally owned store, $68 is returned to the community in taxes, payroll and other spending. By comparison, the same amount spent at a national chain returns $43.

"And $100 spent online is zero (return)," she said. "Online shopping concerns me the most. At least with chain stores, they pay property taxes, sales taxes and have employees. But online retailers are not supporting local employees or making donations (to the community)."

American Express helps

Terri Smith, Moline Centre's program coordinator, said American Express deserves the credit for beginning the Saturday campaign, but it has grown beyond its credit card customers and businesses. She applauds American Express for the tool kit and resources, including promotional items, created for small business participants. To make their own promotions would be "harder for smaller businesses because they are so busy right now with the holidays."

American Express also provides its card members with an incentive to shop Small Business Saturday. Members will get a $10 statement credit when they register their card and use it on a purchase of $10 or more at a qualifying business. They can take advantage of the offer up to three times that day. Registration is at ShopSmall.com

Nationwide, Small Business Saturday is gaining steam with a Neighborhood Champion program, which requires groups to bring at least 10 businesses together to recognize the day. The program now includes many national chamber groups, Main Streets and other business associations.

"This year, we've expanded the Neighborhood Champion program to include even more partners to help spread the message of shopping small and supporting local business," said Lisette Bernstein, vice president of Small Business Saturday at American Express. "We're thrilled to see communities in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., embrace Small Business Saturday and anticipate this year will be the biggest yet for small businesses."

To date, more than 2,000 Neighborhood Champions have signed on, which is up from 1,500 last year. Here, nine Quad-City business groups and shopping districts — led by Quad-Cities Chamber of Commerce — are uniting efforts to draw traffic to small local businesses. 

Besides the chamber, participating organizations are Downtown Davenport Partnership, Moline Centre, Bettendorf Business Network, The District, Greater Quad-Cities Hispanic Chamber, Quad-Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau, Silvis Business Association and Village of East Davenport.

"We realized after last year's Small Business Saturday efforts that we weren't having as large of a reach as we could if we all came together in one plan," said Kristin Glass, the chamber's vice president of member relations.

Although the day has caught on as a concept, she said, "Small businesses don't know how or have the time to promote it."

So the participating groups are providing members with the resources to promote it, many of which are provided by American Express. Small businesses are being given special signage, flyers and other give-aways, such as pens and stickers.

Spreading the message

Quad-City retailers are encouraged to use the hashtag #ShopSmallQC on social media to announce their specials. Glass said the chamber also is launching a "Where Are We Wednesday?" promotion, in which it will take the chamber's wrapped car and have people guess where it is — encouraging them to visit the business. It also will have three small business profiles featured weekly through Christmas on its Facebook page.

The groups also are promoting more than small retailers and restaurants in their promotions, including service providers and other locally owned operations.

"We don't want to limit our neighbors on who we assume people are doing their holiday shopping with," Glass said. "Somebody might want to buy tires for Christmas."  

Pam Fisher's Two Rivers Massage in downtown Moline is among the businesses on ShopSmall.com. The Moline native knows the actual day may not create much walk-in traffic for her, but it will remind shoppers that she is a small business and provides jobs for 10 people.

"I participate in this so they (shoppers) think about the little guys. I hope getting my name out there makes people think about me when they are ready to buy a gift," she said, adding she carries related retail items and gift certificates.

For a fourth year, Tracy Pettett is gearing up for the holidays at her longtime toy and gift shop, Added Touch, in the Village of East Davenport. She, too, appreciates a boost from the national campaign.

"It reacquaints people with a location they maybe haven't been to for awhile," she said.

Pettett said she makes a point of shopping local herself to support the local economy.

"I always say 'thank you for shopping local' to my customers," she said, adding that her customers are mentioning year-round that they are shopping local. "They're much more cognizant of it."

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