The second year of the Small Business Saturday campaign has hit a nerve with many New Jersey local retailers and the organizations that support them.
“The support of local business, especially retail businesses, is critical, for areas and neighborhoods,” said Alfred Titone, director of the New Jersey district of the Small Business Administration. “America and a lot of parts of New Jersey have a lot of Main Streets that are dark.”
Titone said the Christmas shopping season can make up as much as 50 percent of a small business’ annual sales, and encouraged residents to shop at the local shops that are “the very fabric of the 566 municipalities” in New Jersey.
The Downtown Somerville Alliance fully appreciates that fact, and has been preparing for this upcoming weekend for months — and in some capacity, for years, according to Rick St. Pierre, its treasurer.
“We are Central Jersey’s Main Street — Hillsborough, Bridgewater, Raritan, they really don’t have the levels of Main Street,” said St. Pierre, who owns Verve restaurant. “We decided to focus on a shop, dine and live local campaign, and Small Business Saturday buys into that thought pattern.”
St. Pierre said relationships built with local organizations over the years have allowed the DSA to focus its mission of providing an experience for Saturday’s shoppers in the downtown, including the arrival of Santa, free hot chocolate and carriage rides.
The DSA is a tax-funded improvement district, and one of the other focuses of Small Business Saturday for the alliance is showcasing infrastructure improvements made to the town over the past few years.
“We’re not trying to compete with the Black Friday concept as much as we’re trying to provide an environment for the community that makes them feel that they want to live, eat and buy here,” St. Pierre said.
Big arena’s small focus
Some of the bigger businesses in the state also are working to keep New Jersey’s small businesses afloat.
William Miller is the executive chef at the Prudential Center, and grew up in Hillside eating locally crafted food from butchers and other shops in his neighborhood.
Miller, who has been with the Prudential Center for two years, now uses some locally sourced ingredients when creating menus for the Acela Club for New Jersey Devils games.
“There’s a lot of different reasons — one would be quality, one would be uniqueness — and I would say a lot of it has to do with meeting guest expectations,” Miller said. “Not that they expect me to go all local, but some of the mass-produced stuff isn’t as good or as flavorful as what they grew up with.”
Miller regularly shops at Union Pork Store, in Union; Europa Pombalense, in Elizabeth; and Rosa Ly Pierogi, in Irvington.
“Union Pork Store, I just walked into the place,” he said of discovering the shop. “This guy hit it on the head. I was buying for my family there, and I said to him, ‘Would you be interested in doing some wholesale business, too?'”
And because he changes the menu for every game, Miller said using smaller, local shops gives him the options of trying new things and innovating with the proprietor.
“Honestly, I’m afraid of some of these local businesses going away some time because they can’t compete with the big guys, and that would be a sad thing in my opinion,” Miller said.
Small Business Saturday started last year as a promotion by American Express. Card users who registered for the event received a $25 credit on their statement when they spent the same amount at a participating small business on Saturday. Participating business reported a 28 percent increase in sales compared to the Saturday after Thanksgiving in 2009.
This year, in addition to the promotion for American Express card users, small businesses can register for free social media advertising on platforms like Twitter and Facebook, as well as customizable displays and e-mail templates to advertise the event with individual branding.