For business owners in central Ohio, Small Business Saturday has always been a challenge, given that it falls on the same day as the football game between Ohio State University and the University of Michigan.

But thanks to an increase in popularity for local shops and the nationwide campaign, Westerville's business owners have pivoted from the "Saturday" aspect of the observance and turned it into a weekend.

Small Business Saturday, set this year for Saturday, Nov. 25, was started by American Express in 2010. It was designed to encourage support of local businesses, along with marketing for the credit card company.

American Express puts advertisements on television, radio and online, and Westerville Uptown Merchants Association president Debbie Bennati said that exposure is priceless to small retailers like her.

"We could never, ever advertise on TV because the cost is outrageous," she said. "But Small Business Saturday is advertised on TV a lot and it's all over Facebook. Several times a day you see announcements about different places around the country that have Small Business Saturday events, and that gives us a chance to share that with everybody."

Even on the day of the Ohio State-Michigan game, the extra exposure leads to more traffic than usual, especially in Uptown. American Express provides Uptown merchants with decorations, signs and other items to help advertise the day, and Bennati said the whole campaign works.

"We have people we don't usually see come in, and they announce that to us," she said with a laugh.

"They actually say, 'I'm shopping local today.' "

While the game will still cause some slow hours on Saturday, Bennati said Uptown has largely moved past the movement being about one specific day.

"The whole weekend ends up being Small Business Saturday, really, because of the Michigan-Ohio State game," she said. "The advertising that happens on the internet and TV makes people aware, and they come even if they want to watch the Michigan game, even on Friday and Saturday."

Lynn Aventino, executive director of Uptown Westerville Inc., said the increased focus on small businesses matches the goal of her organization.

"Supporting local businesses and supporting local jobs keeps the money in our own community rather than being spent at a larger retailer that takes money out of our community," she said. "We're just trying to show the value of shopping local. It benefits not only that business owner, but the community as a whole."

And for Bennati and other Westerville business owners, new faces means a larger customer base as people look for alternatives in the suburbs.

"People from other areas are realizing we're there," she said. "(Columbus') Short North isn't a shopping area very much, anymore, and that would have been an area where they've been before."

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