Small businesses, often overshadowed by high-traffic malls and big-box retailers during the Christmas shopping season, are hoping for a buying blitz today.
For weeks, a national campaign, sponsored by American Express and labeled Small Business Saturday, has been urging consumers through social media to keep their holiday spending local, at least for one day. And many local stores on the region's retail main streets are participating.
FedEx, Google and Facebook are supporting the event, which is in its second year. Small businesses that participate get free marketing materials and some receive free Facebook advertisements. People who commit to spending their money in local shops and use an American Express card can get $25.
"Any time you can help a small business it helps the whole community," said Josh Chapman, who owns Chapman Jewelry and Repair in LaFayette, Ga. "When you shop local they say a dollar turns seven times in a town. Instead of sending it out of town it makes a big difference."
Consumer awareness about Small Business Saturday has swelled in the last year. In 2010, 1.5 million Facebook users committed to buying local the Saturday after Thanksgiving. This year, more 2.6 million committed.
Retailers that participated and accepted an American Express card last year saw a 28 percent jump in sales, according to American Express.
And local business owners said they are willing to try anything to boost sales.
"The economy has hurt us," Chapman said. "Before we had plumbers and carpenters come in to buy jewelry, and now there is no jobs for them."
J.D. Loyd, owner of Loyds and J.D. Men's Clothing in South Pittsburg, Tenn., said he hopes events like Small Business Saturday can get more people hooked on individual attention, a service they get when shopping local.
It's hard to get ahead of department stores, he said, so you have to offer more -- better sales, sizing, unique items and gift wrapping -- and rely on a loyal, local customer base.
On Frazier Avenue in Chattanooga on Friday, shoppers hustled in and out of shops such as Blue Skies and Winder Binder Gallery. Almost all North Shore businesses plan to participate in Small Business Saturday and a handful will offer discounts.
Betsy Cowart, a 27-year-old North Shore resident, came with 11-year-old niece Lizzie Wamsley. They ate frozen yogurt, looked at store fronts and bought a few things.
"We're enjoying the outside. It's so much better than being inside a mall," said Cowart. "We like to support local. Plus, where else can you get a band aid shaped like a pickle."
Still, some participants say they aren't too sure that Small Business Saturday will have an effect. At the end of the day, the glossy brochures and television ads purchased by chain stores will have a farther reach.
"Honestly, I think it is kind of like the Occupy movement," said Brad Putt, the owner of Main Stage Music in Dayton, Tenn. "It might get some press, but it doesn't really accomplish anything."
Joan Garrett McClane has been a staff writer for the Times Free Press since August 2007. Before becoming a general assignment writer for the paper, she wrote about business, higher education and the court systems. She grew up the oldest of five sisters near Birmingham, Ala., and graduated with a master's and bachelor's degrees in journalism from the University of Alabama. Before landing her first full-time job as a reporter at the Times Free Press, ...