Rain puts a damper on Small Business Saturday

Staff writer

After Williamsburg shoppers flocked to big-box retailers and outlet malls for Black Friday deals, rainy weather led to mixed results on Small Business Saturday.

According to The Weather Underground, the area saw about 1.2 inches of rainfall Nov. 24, the day after Black Friday. American Express began promoting the day as Small Business Saturday in 2010 to encourage shoppers across the country to support local stores and restaurants.

The company reports shoppers spent an estimated $103 billion during the past eight years on Small Business Saturday. More than 100 Williamsburg-area retailers and restaurants participated this year, according to the American Express website.

Some local stores use the holiday as an extension of their Black Friday deals, while others have special offers exclusive to shoppers who stop in for Small Business Saturday. Marty Wilson, president of the Merchants Square Association, said the initiative has gradually gained steam in the historic shopping district and Williamsburg shoppers are already inclined to support local businesses.

“I think they realize that when they shop at a local business, a lot of times, the owners are waiting on them and all the dollars stay inside the community where they live,” she said. “My store has been here for 27 years and I’ve been here for 27 years, and I’ve seen a real increase in people being cognizant of shopping local and shopping small.”

A study commissioned by American Express supports that idea. According to the report, two-thirds of every dollar spent at a small business stays in the local community, and small business owners can expect an average of 29 percent of their total annual sales to come during the holiday shopping season.

Although Small Business Saturday sales reached a record high across the country this year, some local stores were disappointed with their sales. Wilson also owns The Carousel children’s clothing store on Duke of Gloucester Street, and she said the rainy weather kept some shoppers from taking advantage of special markdowns.

“On Black Friday we had a record day, and we were anticipating another great day until we saw the weather and saw that it would rain, and since we are an outdoor shopping destination the weather really does impact us,” she said.

Allen Sylvia, owner of Yorktown Bookshop in York County, agreed, saying the rain kept customers away from his store last weekend despite the storewide discount.

“It was about half the amount of business. It’s been a bad weather year here, a lot of rain and heat,” he said. “Everybody’s done less than they’ve done last year.”

On the other hand, Amanda Wilbourne, owner of the Nautical Dog pet gift shop in James City County, said her customers weren’t discouraged by the bad weather. She said the store saw an increase in sales of about 20 percent when compared to last year’s Small Business Saturday.

“We’ve been here in New Town for a little over 11 years and every year, Small Business Saturday does grow for us,” she said. “We’ve never had a year that is worse than the year before, we’re always up consistently about 15 to 20 percent, so people are learning about it.”

While some shoppers came to the store with the goal of supporting local businesses, Wilbourne said others were unaware of the initiative. She attributed her store’s success to having an established customer base and consistent promotion of Small Business Saturday on social media.

“I don’t know that people are necessarily coming out for Small Business Saturday as much as the fact that they’ve been shopping with us for many years and they know the different things that we do,” she said. “Overall, we definitely get people that come in and say ‘we’re here to shop local,’ and then you get the people who don’t know about it, so I’d say that it’s about half and half.”

Arriaza can be reached at 757-790-9313 or on Twitter @rodrigoarriaza0.

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