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Holiday shoppers urged to remember small local stores

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Holiday shopping this year is expected to “increase a solid 3.6 percent to $655.8 billion — significantly higher than the 10-year average of 2.5 percent and above the seven-year average of 3.4 percent since recovery began in 2009,” according to the National Retail Federation (NRF).

The figures include not just purchases of gifts, decorations and the like, but also concomitant spending such as gas and restaurant sales. Many independent retailers are hoping to be among the beneficiaries of what is traditionally the biggest retail sales period of each year.

“As America’s big box stores get even bigger, it’s more important than ever to recognize the power of small business ownership,” said Brian Mattingly, founder and CEO of Welcomemat Services Mattingly’s company is a franchise system made up of small business owners who work to enhance the visibility of fellow small business owners. Headquartered in Atlanta, Welcomemat has franchises in 22 states.

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Big box stores, Mattingly said, tend to be the focus of “Black Friday,” the day after Thanksgiving when many use time off from work to start their holiday shopping. The day after black Friday has been designated “Small Business Saturday,” when consumers are encouraged to shop at locally owned retail stores.

Founded in 2010 by American Express, and now supported by such organizations as the U.S. Small Business Administration, Small Business Saturday encourages shoppers—especially holiday shoppers—to include small local merchants as they look for gifts and items to brighten their homes for the season. “Although the designation has only been around six years, it’s proving to be a success,” Mattingly said. “It gets bigger every year.”

Welcomemat recently compiled a list of America’s Top 25 Best Neighborhoods for Small Businesses. Decatur ranked #2, second only to Lakewood Ranch in Florida. Neighborhoods were ranked based on “community vibe to shop local, popularity of the neighborhood, sense of community belonging” and other measurable factors. “We’re a data driven company,” Mattingly said. “We look at a lot of facts and figures.”

He said that the large number of independently owned businesses, along with the walkability of the downtown business area and the city’s support of the business community all are factors in making Decatur a great place for small businesses.

The city of Decatur promotes its small businesses in a number of ways from its active business association to an ongoing “Keep it Indie-Cator” campaign. Each year during the holiday shopping season, the city sponsors a special promotion called Terrific Thursdays. On the first three Thursdays in November and the first three in December many downtown Decatur stores offer special in-store events, discounts, and treats at shops, restaurants, and services. Most of the approximately 35 participating businesses are locally owned.

Mattingly called small businesses the “heartbeat of America’s economy.” He added. “Community culture is shaped by the entrepreneurs who invest their resources to open businesses in neighborhoods, townships, and boroughs throughout our nation. Communities become vibrant and thrive when local businesses thrive.

“When people shop locally, they keep dollars in their own communities. When local merchants and consumers come together that translates into a community that’s stronger economically with a higher quality of life—better parks, schools and the like. Also, many owners of small shops live in the community so shoppers are buying from their neighbors,” Mattingly continued.

“Small Business Saturday is designed to call attention to the advantages of shopping at independent local stores, but we want to take the celebration beyond just one day and encourage consumers to think in terms of patronizing small businesses through the entire holiday season. We hope this year to celebrate the first ever Small Business Season,” he continued. 

As consumers discover the variety of locally oriented merchandise and personalized service that often are offered in small retail shops, Mattingly said, they may begin visiting these businesses throughout the year.
According to NRF, retail is the nation’s largest private sector employer, supporting one in four U.S. jobs – 42 million working Americans.

Contributing $2.6 trillion to annual GDP, retail is a daily barometer for the nation’s economy, NRF reports.    

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