On Friday, the big box retailer was king.
But shoppers in and around Boston are supporting small businesses today, spurred in part by Small Business Saturday, a promotion aimed at driving customer traffic to local brick-and-mortar shops between Black Friday and its cousin, Cyber Monday.
In Jamaica Plain, Kim Mitchell, owner of Boing! JP’s Toy Shop, said that last year, she did about three times more business on Small Business Saturday than on Black Friday. And this Black Friday was busier than last year’s, she said.
“This is a toy holiday,” she said. “I’ll probably sell two dollhouses from January to December, and then I’ll sell five in December because that’s when people are willing to spend more.”
She said the store faces stiff competition from larger retailers, who can buy high volumes of last year’s stock and sell it cheaply. Some toy manufacturers prefer to unload, say, 1,000 train sets at a time onto a large retailer, Mitchell said, rather than sell them by the dozen to small shops.
“I just can’t compete against that, even if I wanted to or tried,” she said. “The only place that I really worry about it is on the bigger-ticket items. … Where I try to make up the difference is in service, ease of shopping, and giving back to the community, like donating to schools.”
Adrienne Korman, a retired MetLife employee who lives in the neighborhood, said she came to the store to do some early Christmas shopping specifically because of the promotion.
“It’s important to support your local businesses and I try to do it as much as possible, though sometimes the bigger stores are cheaper,” Korman said.
American Express began supporting Small Business Saturday in 2010, and launching promotion to give cardholders $25 back when they spend that much at a qualifying store.
In the Porter Square section of Cambridge, Amy Barth, the manager of Susanna, a neighborhood women’s clothing store that has been in business for more than 30 years, said she noticed a slight uptick in customer traffic during the promotion last year.
“People get excited about it,” Barth said. “Twenty-five dollars of free money, why wouldn’t you use it?”
Soon after speaking to a reporter, Barth had a lengthy conversation with Bee Jouett, 54, a frequent customer who lives in Medford, about a sweater she was trying on. Jouett said that level of service and attention is one reason she remains loyal to the store.
“I’ve always loved Susanna’s, and I love supporting small businesses,” she said. “I feel like I’ve seen the same people working here for decades.”
Barth said Susanna has managed to weather the difficult economic times in recent years by maintaining a loyal customer base that expects high-quality service, as well as competitive prices.
“Customer service is why we’re still here,” she said.
Up the street at abodeon, a family-run business that offers vintage and modern handcrafted items, longtime customer and neighborhood resident Robin Kelsey, 51, was shopping with his family.
He said shops like abodeon offer unique inventory, unlike many large retailers.
“You can find things here that you can’t find anywhere else,” he said. “Everything here seems to have a purpose. It feels like they’ve done a very careful job of selecting these items.”
He said he also prefers shopping locally because of the community experience.
“We see people that we know all the time in this store and other stores around the neighborhood,” he said.
Kelsey, who has a youthful look, joked that “staying out of malls keeps me young.”
The federal government is also plugging the shop local movement today.
Karen G. Mills, the head of the US Small Business Administration, is scheduled to appear in Roslindale this afternoon during the neighborhood’s holiday tree lighting in Adams Park to to speak with small-business owners.
“Small businesses are the back bone of our communities,” Mills said in a statement. “And when we shop small, we not only get great products and services, but we support our neighbors and strengthen our local economies.”