Westerville News & Public Opinion

Uptown ready for 'Small Business Saturday'

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The Friday after Thanksgiving may belong to shopping malls and big-box retailers, but the Saturday after Thanksgiving belongs to local businesses.

Dubbed "Small Business Saturday," and sponsored by American Express, Uptown retailers are using the day Nov. 24, and finding other ways, to encourage residents to do their holiday shopping at Westerville's small, locally owned shops.

"Everyday, we need people to think about the small businesses," said Debbie Bennati, president of the Westerville Uptown Merchants Association and owner of A Gal Named Cinda Lou, 20 N. State St.

Many of Uptown's retailers are participating in Small Business Saturday, which provides free advertising and credits $25 to American Express cardholders who register their cards at shopsmall.com and then make a purchase at a qualifying small business.

The Westerville Uptown Merchants Association also will have its annual Home for the Holidays event from 3 to 8 p.m. Dec. 1. Many of the shops will have extended hours, and carolers and Santa Claus will stroll through Uptown.

Other businesses, such as Outside Envy, 15 N. State St., and Abbey Rose, 21 N. State St., host holiday open houses to encourage their customers to find gifts locally.

"The whole key to the shop local movement, no matter who you're working with ... is just to keep it top of mind with the customers," said Outside Envy owner Kriss Rogers. "I hear it every day from my customers: 'We want to come in here and shop and support Uptown.' As long as there's a thought in their heads, then it's always going to be successful."

Uptown business owners also seek to remind shoppers that Uptown is a place to find unique gifts -- many shops offer vintage goods and antiques, as well as items crafted by local artisans.

"If you want a unique gift that's not cookie cutter, this is the place to go: Uptown," said Abbey Rose owner Patty Withers. "We do try very hard to have those things that are handcrafted locally, that are not massed produced in you-know-where. That's why my customers come to me. ... You're not going to try to find the same thing over and over again in the shop."

Uptown's businesses also offer customers a personal touch.

Shop owners and employees know their merchandise and can assist customers in finding what they need, Rogers said. As people return to the shops, the owners and employees get to know them.

"I can call probably about two-thirds of my customers by name when they come through the door. You just don't get that experience in the big-box store," Rogers said. "It's become an exercise in frustration these days because of the lack of help."

There are some challenges with getting people to shop small and shop locally, the business owner said.

Most of it boils down to awareness: Letting people know what's available in Uptown.

"For me, it's trying to stay in continual contact with our customer base. Our money for advertising is small," Withers said. "It's always frustrating when you hear people say, 'I'm from Westerville, and I've never been (Uptown).' I'm not sure what the solution is, if there is a solution, but it is a challenge."

Many people also have misconceptions about parking when they visit Uptown, Bennati said.

"They have this perception that there isn't enough parking if you can't park on the street, and some people are afraid to parallel park," Bennati said. "There are more than 500 spots behind all of the buildings."

In addition to supporting local businesses and finding unique things, Uptown is a great place to shop for the holidays because its historical streets have a way of putting people in the holiday spirit, Bennati said.

"Especially at Christmastime, people like to be out in the crisp air," Bennati said. "It makes you feel more like Christmas than being in the mall."

 

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