Giving Thanks: Sparkle is the new Black Friday

"It's like being a little do-good fairy, I love that."

One small business in Williamsburg is joining the crowd of mom-and-pop shops closing on Black Friday.

Instead of just closing, the owner and manager of Quirks of Art, a small arts store on High Street, created their own holiday — Sparkle Friday.

"What's the opposite of Black Friday? What's the opposite of opening earlier, closing later, putting everything on deep discount? It's closing altogether," owner Jennifer Raines said. "And what's the opposite of black? Sparkle. I mean that's what we came up with, and it just stuck."

Raines, along with store manager Kendra Law, started Sparkle Friday last year after Raines decided she had enough with trying to compete with larger stores for business that day. The activities include imparting random acts of kindness on people on the street or businesses around town, and drives for multiple charities at the store itself.

This year, they have inspired more than 12 other businesses to donate to the cause, form a "sparkle squad," or create their own charity drive.

"Basically it was brought on by frustration on my part, as the business owner, just getting totally overwhelmed," Raines said. "Every year the stores are opening earlier, staying open later, more discounts."

As a small business, Raines felt she couldn't compete with the big stores anymore. Quirks of Art will have been open for 20 years next February, and until 2015, had never closed on Black Friday. For many stores, the weeks before Christmas are their strongest sales time, which is why Raines said deciding to close was tough, but worth it.

In 2015, it was just Law and Raines sneaking around Williamsburg, surprising anyone in their path with a "sparkle" or a random act of kindness. They brought cupcakes, donated by Extraordinary Cupcakes, to the fire department and flowers to Patriots Colony at Williamsburg. They showed up to the Williamsburg bus station, hopped on buses and handed out cupcakes to all on board.

They raised more than $1,000 in donations for Feed Our Future, a program in Surry County that helps ensure students from Surry Elementary School are fed on weekends and over school breaks, Law said.

Those random acts of kindness will still be part of this year's sparkle Friday, but done by squads rather than just Raines and Law. They have more than 30 people signed up to participate, and more are expected to join as the day gets closer. They squads will "report for duty" at 10 a.m. Friday to Quirks of Art for receive their "secret missions."

They might be tasked with picking up a meal donated by Carrot Tree Kitchens, snacks from the Peanut Shop of Williamsburg, flowers from Williamsburg Floral and Gifts, or another participating business. They then take that gift to a fire station, retirement home or other designated group.

Quirks of Art is also providing little gift bags, covered in sparkles, with items donated from the store, their artists and other businesses, for the squads to give out along the way. The gift bags are filled with candy, gift cards, and other small items depending on where they're going. The teams themselves will also be decked out in sparkle squad t-shirts.

"We're encouraging random acts of kindness along the way as well because the whole day is about getting back into the holiday spirit and just focusing on what's important to (the volunteers) and getting in that feel-good mood," Law said.

This year, boxes will be placed outside the store on High Street, next to Movie Tavern, to collect donations for Ring Dog Rescue, which helps place hard-to-adopt dogs in homes and keep them there, and Gwendolyn's Wish, which supports families keep their pets in time of financial crisis. Both organizations are looking for flea and tick collars and medications, and dog treats and food in particular.

Quirks of Art is accepting cash donations for the non-profits, and donations on behalf of other businesses taking part in Sparkle Friday. Those include the Williamsburg Center for Dental Health, which is running a coat drive for the Grove Christian Outreach Center, and School Crossing, which organized a Toys for Tots drive in which they will match each toy donated. They are also collecting cards and donations for Wes Pak, a local 10-year-old fighting neuroblastoma for the fifth time.

They will accept donations to Feed Our Future, the organization they supported last year and which The Wine Seller in Williamsburg took on this year. Inspired by Quirks of Art's success last year, The Wine Seller also decided to join the sparkle festivities, manager Amber Hatfield said.

The Wine Seller will be closed on Black Friday until 4 p.m., when the doors will open only for people to drop off donations for Feed Our Future, Hatfield said.

She said Raines' enthusiasm was "just contagious," so she suggested to The Wine Seller's owners, Bill and Nancy Moore, that they close in favor of sparkle Friday this year.

They went for it.

"As an anchor of the small business community, we wanted to explore an alternative to the nonsensical, commercialized day," Hatfield said. "It's small businesses standing up and just saying no, and, more importantly, it's a way to give back. ... Everybody deserves the chance to spend time with family on holidays."

Hatfield also organized two groups to be sparkle squads Friday, but she doesn't know what they'll be assigned to do yet. That secrecy is part of the fun, she said.

"It's a chance for everybody to do something fun, this whole concept is just very fun," Hatfield said. "It's like being a little do-good fairy, I love that."

To finish the day, Raines organized a party open to all from 5 to 8 p.m. at Quirks of Art with music and a potluck to celebrate the day's success and accept last-minute donations.

Williams can be reached by phone at 757-345-2341.

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