Grady Evans, left, of Sandy Springs, helps Brooke Henze, also of Sandy Springs, measure a display shelf inside Henze’s her store, The Swell Shop. Grady and Brooke spent the day preparing the store for this weekend’s Small Business Saturday. The store, which will sell American made textiles and personalized heirloom gifts, started exclusively online in December of 2013. ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

Small Business Saturday focuses on shopping at mom-and-pop stores

If Black Friday crowds exhaust you and Cyber Monday feels risky, mom-and-pop business owners in metro Atlanta have a proposition: shop Small Business Saturday.

Instead of elbowing your way to that discounted TV at a Big Box retailer this weekend, you should patronize independent shops, where you can slow down, get one-on-one service and perhaps find unique items, small business owners say.

“We try to offer things you can’t get in the big box stores or on Amazon,” said Crista McCay, registrar for the Marietta Museum of History, one of a number of Marietta Square businesses hoping to get on metro Atlantans holiday shopping itinerary.

“We’ve got Big Chicken items like a Big Chicken ornament made of Georgia clay that you can’t get anywhere else,” she said, referring to the Marietta landmark. “We’ve also got ‘History in Focus,’ which is 125-page book about Cobb County that is unique to our store.”

Expectations are high that this may be the breakout year for Small Business Saturday, which has struggled to gain momentum since it was created by American Express in 2010.

The National Retail Federation projects about 71 million people will shop on Small Business Saturday, a solid turnout when compared to the more traditional and better known Black Friday. About 115 million are expected to shop on Black Friday, the NRF reports.

A recent study by the National Federation of Independent Business found that consumer awareness of Small Business Saturday has grown to about six in 10 Americans.

That could mean millions in dollars for local economies because most small business sales stay in the communities where the purchases are made compared to that of big box retailers, said Nathan Humphrey, director of the Georgia NFIB office.

“Keeping the money in the local community with people you know is part of the emotional draw,” he said.

Small Business Saturday also helps small communities showcase their downtowns because many of the stores are in older, renovated buildings that require shoppers to park and walk to storefronts.

“This is great for communities because it forces people to get out of their cars and walk around,” said Amanda Leiba, senior marketing coordinator for the city of Duluth, which is sponsoring a Small Business Saturday celebration for Gwinnett County community. “Sometimes people don’t know what’s in their back yard because they don’t venture out.”

Unlike retail chains or billion-dollar online juggernauts like Amazon, the mom-and-pop retailers can’t afford to offer huge deals to pull in customers or take a loss on certain items, say a TV, in hopes of making it up with sales of other products, Humphrey said.

But the idea of supporting local businesses resonates with many. “Buying local is a good push for small businesses, especially with millennials,” said James Miller, a spokesman for the Georgia Retail Association. “Millennials like to feel connected to their community and that focus appeals to them.”

For retailers, the challenge is finding ways to make it worthwhile to shoppers. Several stores in the Buckhead Court shopping center in Atlanta decided to work as a group this year to lure customers through a coordinated campaign of word-of-mouth promotion, emails and social media. The hope is that visitors will come not for one store, but make a day of shopping at several within the block.

“We thought if we did it cohesively, it would have a broader appeal,” said Sabrina Davis, owner of Buckhead Court’s Range Boutiques.

Ann Huff, of Buckhead Court’s Huff Harrington Fine Art, an art gallery and home furnishings store, agreed. “We know we are not going to have people lined up. But we hope that working with each other we can reach people we otherwise would not have.”

In Newnan, Cathy Bechard, owner of Catherine’s Southern Sass Boutique, is teaming up with Wood N Whimsy to offer space on Small Business Saturday to women artists who normally work from home. The idea is to use the day to promote those who don’t have retail space but want the exposure during the holidays.

“We’ve got a close knit community and this is a great occasion for us to get others to see their work,” she said.

But it’s not just clothes and TVs that lure shoppers during the holiday rush between now and Christmas. Ronnie Agami, owner of Universal Diamond Corp. in Buckhead, said his sales double in November and December. That means Small Business Saturday could be a big win for him if it can put more focus on independent retailers.

“Atlanta is one of those markets where customers really like supporting local businesses,” he said. “Our job is to show them that by shopping at small businesses they get a very high level of expertise, especially when you’re dealing with diamonds.”

For Brooke Henze, this Small Business Saturday will be her first in the world of brick-and-mortar retailing. While most other retailers are trying to figure out the online game, Henze started out in e-commerce and is moving into a physical storefront.

Her four-year-old company, Swell Forever, makes blankets, throws, books and other merchandise popular with mothers of newborns. She opened her first retail store this week in downtown Sandy Springs and hopes her tried-and-true customers, as well as newcomers, will use Small Business Saturday to support her.

“It’s exciting for us,” said Henze, who will have a more formal opening in January. “I want people to come out, not because they are expecting to get 50 percent off, but because you have a retail jewel in your community.”

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.