Western Pa. business owners urge shoppers to think small
Stepping inside Attic Record Store in Millvale is like stepping into the past.
And not just because they specialize in musical nostalgia that comes in the form of vinyl records and CDs.
“We are not computerized at all,” said Fred Bohn, who owns the store and record warehouse across the street with his dad, also named Fred Bohn. “If someone wants a Julie Cruise CD, we have to walk over and see if we have a Julie Cruise CD instead of typing on a computer for 10 minutes to tell you we don’t have it in stock.
“There’s an old feel to it,” he said. “It’s a fun place to be.”
The question is whether consumers are interested in experiencing such a fun place or prefer to make purchases at large retail centers or online. Bohn and owners of countless other small local businesses hope shoppers will give them a shot this weekend during the fifth annual Small Business Saturday.
The day after Black Friday, Small Business Saturday is a reminder that bigger is not necessarily better.
“Shopping on Main Street is a way to help your town, create jobs and keep the local economy vibrant,” said Kevin Shivers, executive state director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, Pennsylvania, which promotes Small Business Saturday with American Express.
“Business owners usually support local charities, they spend their own income in the same town and they usually hire local people,” Shivers said. “That’s why shopping small helps the whole neighborhood.”
All true, said Mary Hartner of Mancini’s Bakery, which is headquartered in Stowe but has shops in the Strip District and Market Square.
“We’re involved in the Rotary and trying to raise money for other local charities, and I’m involved with the Sto-Rox Family Health Center,” she said. “We have an interest, a vested interest, in what goes on in the communities around us since we care so much for the people in those communities. It would be good for people to have a reciprocal feeling.”
Municipalities are promoting the advantages of shopping locally with special promotions and incentives on Small Business Saturday, and it’s paying off, officials said.
“I definitely feel like there’s more of an awareness about the movement and the day. It’s slowly growing and hopefully it becomes part of people’s weekend traditions,” said Chelynne Curci, main street manager for Butler Downtown, which promotes downtown revitalization in Butler.
The township’s 50th Annual Spirit of Christmas Parade is tied to Small Business Saturday, she said.
Three years ago, organizers moved the parade from Black Friday morning to the evening of Small Business Saturday, which encourages people to patronize Downtown businesses before and after the parade, Curci said.
Also, Butler Downtown will have a pop-up Small Business Saturday headquarters in a building on Main Street from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at which visitors can learn about the shop local movement, receive prize giveaways and free hot cider and decorate thank-you cards to give to local business owners, Curci said.
Most of the enterprises on Mt. Lebanon’s Washington Road, known as the Uptown Business District, and Beverly Road are independent businesses, said Eric Milliron, commercial districts manager.
“They’re the lifeblood of our commercial district. These are our neighbors, our friends. And it’s in all of our best interests to see them do well,” Milliron said. Mt. Lebanon is promoting Small Business Saturday on social media, in Mt. Lebanon Magazine and with banners, he said.
Despite the headline-grabbing craziness of Black Friday, surveys suggest that consumers support the idea of going small and local.
In a survey conducted by American Express and NFIB, 78 percent of respondents said they intend to spend more or the same amount this year as they did last year on Small Business Saturday. In addition, 77 percent said Small Business Saturday makes them want to shop at small local businesses all year long.
Last year, shoppers spent $5.7 billion at locally owned shops and restaurants on Small Business Saturday, a 3.6 percent increase over the previous year, NFIB officials said.
“We like the concept — it’s a nice thing to promote the awareness of small businesses,” said Gary Kanabe, president of Elmer’s Aquarium and Pet Center in Monroeville. “We’re the guys who sponsor the Little League teams (and) we think offer something unique for families, to come and see the tropical fish.”
To encourage consumers to participate in this year’s Small Business Saturday, American Express will give card holders a $10 credit when they shop at qualifying small businesses, officials said.
Bohn urged shoppers to think small on Saturday, and beyond.
“A lot of people take small businesses for granted, they just assume they’ll be there,” he said. “But if you quit supporting small businesses, they’re going to be gone. That’s what built America — small businesses. Not supporting them just leaves room for corporations to take over.”
Trib Total Media staff writer Tory N. Parrish contributed to this report.