Ah, Black Friday, the day consumers had better not shop ’til they drop, because they’re liable to be trampled.
This post-holiday holiday has evolved quickly from the day when shoppers would buy gifts for their loved ones and retailers would put their books in the black to a pretty good symbol of consumer hell.
The crowds and the crush are legendary. Gone are the days people buy their holiday gifts on Black Friday, says John Schopbach, owner of Boulder’s Weekends clothing store.
“I don’t even know how much shopping for the holidays, gifts and stuff, gets done on Black Friday,” he says, “or if it’s just the guy that has wanted that 70-inch TV all year.”
Local business owners say they don’t really try to compete with the mall rush of Black Friday.
“I’d say it’s not a huge day, but traffic-wise we’ll see an increase,” Schopbach says. “If you want my unsolicited thoughts, it’s become just a big doorbuster shopping day. People go crowd into the malls and do that deal.”
“Black Friday [is] not super great. Everybody goes out [to the malls],” says Patty Ross, the owner of Clutter consignment shop. “I just remember thinking last year, that weekend is always tough after Thanksgiving because people tend to go to the big malls.”
So fine, Friday is for the chains. Saturday is for the small businesses.
That’s the idea behind Small Business Saturday, a nationwide event that urges consumers to spend some time and money at a locally owned establishment.
And of all things to get a corporate sponsor, the event is backed and branded, for better or worse, by a multinational corporation. Credit card giant American Express is the sponsor behind Small Business Saturday, claiming that it founded the day in 2010.
The concept of shopping locally, of course, has been around for decades and didn’t originate in a boardroom. But local shop owners recognize AmEx for driving business on the day, especially by offering a $25 credit to any shopper who enrolls and makes a purchase of that amount or more at a participating store. Several stores in Boulder are participating.
And no matter the sponsorship, the day’s concept has found solid footing within Boulder’s local-first ethic. Betty Quigley, a coordinator at Grandrabbits Toy Shoppe, says she’s seen the power Small Business Saturday can have.
“We found last year, it was really interesting because some people actually really paid attention to receiving that $25 back if they shop local,” she says. “We have people that actually heeded that and came in specifically to shop local, to get some of their toys ahead of time and to support in-town, locally owned businesses.”
Quigley also credits media attention for driving customers to participate.
“It’s kind of neat since there’s national media, it kind of alerts people to think in that vein,” she says.
Asked if it’s ironic for national media to emphasize small business shopping, she says, “Yeah, it is. I know. … And by a big business. But the concept of it feels kind of interesting and exciting.”
“It’s a great concept,” says Schopbach. “It’s something that really needs to be thought about by people.”
Downtown Boulder Inc. wants to give holiday shoppers a few days to mull it over. The group’s Winter Sidewalk Sale, scheduled to coincide with Small Business Saturday, spans Nov. 23-25.
Twenty-four businesses along Pearl Street are participating in the event, which, despite the name, won’t take place strictly on the sidewalk — it’ll be cold, after all. Many stores are planning sales but haven’t released the details.
Shoppers could do both Black Friday and Small Business Saturday, of course. But the emphasis of the Pearl Street event is both on lower prices and a more community-oriented, less intense experience.
“We tend to get people who don’t want to be in the huge, huge crowds and just want to find a holiday atmosphere and support local businesses,” says Lauren Polk Brown, vice president of Pedestrian Shops shoe store. “They still are looking for deals, but it’s not typically the people who want to line up at 4 in the morning to get something half off.”
“Black Friday, we don’t have people fighting over merchandise,” says Kathy King, owner of women’s clothing shop Barbara & Company. “It’s a nice, pleasant atmosphere. There’s not a huge rush like there would be on Friday at the huge stores. It’s more civilized Christmas shopping.”
“Last time we had hot cider, homemade cookies,” says Schopbach of Weekends. “Just trying to make it a little more of a homey Christmas feel.”
Many Pearl Street merchants say it’s a main goal to cultivate an environment very different from the Black Friday Mall Crush.
“There’s generally a festive, happy vibe on the mall on this day,” Stephanie Schindhelm of Boulder Book Store says in an email. “People aren’t as desperate and frantic as they are at places like Walmart on Black Friday, since the idea behind Small Business Saturday is about supporting local business and putting your money back into our community rather than getting that deal on that toy/ game/electronic device before they run out.”
Ross says she has high hopes for the atmosphere on Pearl Street. “A lot of people go to the malls on Friday, but then it’s also kind of crazy,” she says. “I think if we promote Small Business Saturday and get people in, I think it’ll be a really high-energy, nice atmosphere.”
Ross also drops a mention of cider and cookies. In fact, a dedicated local shopper could probably live on the free food doled out that day.
But those who want variety in their free-food selection can rely on Oliverde, says Manager Eliah Golden.
“We do have balsamic tasting in the store every day, but we’re going to be offering a lot more other things to try as well,” she says. “We’ll have hot chocolate with raspberry balsamic in it, we’ll have popcorn, we’ll have lots of other little items for people to taste and snack on while they’re here.”
The specialty food store and tasting bar just off Pearl is holding several discounts and special sales for Small Business Saturday and will stay open late “based on business and traffic,” Golden says. She says neighboring stores have said they’ll do the same.
Like many others, Golden says she hopes Small Business Saturday provides an antidote to Black Friday’s madness.
“Jeez, on Black Friday, how many people have been injured, you know? I mean it’s ridiculous,” she says. “So we’re pumping the brakes a little bit on that. We’re not opening at 3 a.m.”
Winter Sidewalk Sale
Nov. 23-25, Pearl Street Mall, Downtown Boulder
Art Source International
Barbara & Company
Boulder Book Store
El Loro Jewelry & Clog Co.
Ku Cha House of Tea
Lindsay’s Boulder Deli at Haagen Dazs
Tee & Cakes