Ten years ago, American Express launched the concept of “Small Business Saturday” as a way to spur consumers to shop local during the holiday season. A decade later—and more than $120 billion spent—this unofficial holiday is not only marking a milestone anniversary, but is arguably more relevant than ever as small businesses do their best to rebound during COVID-19.
Cleveland is certainly no exception, with many neighborhoods gearing up to celebrate Small Business Saturday in a meaningful way when this year’s installment takes place on Saturday, November 28.
“We want people to think about where their dollar goes,” says Joshua Jones, marketing director for Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization (DSCDO). “It’s been a tough year for a lot of people, and the holidays are one of the few ways we can still celebrate each other. People will be putting a lot more thought into their gift-giving this year, and we hope they’ll support a local business and support the community in doing so.”
Neighborhoods like MidTown and AsiaTown are doing just that by teaming up for a month-long#ShopSmallCrawl, encouraging shoppers to take on six “challenges” that range from trying a bubble tea to leaving an online review for a neighborhood business. Anybody who completes six challenges is eligible to win a gift basket with $100 worth of local goodies, such as Legend Headwear and snacks from Asia Plaza.
“A lot of these businesses are immigrant-owned and minority-owned, and we want to support that more than ever,” says Chelsey Kovar, economic development associate for MidTown Cleveland. “COVID-19 makes everything so much harder, so we’re going to do anything we can do to highlight our businesses and help them thrive.”
And these initiatives do move the needle: research shows that for every dollar spent at a small U.S. business, approximately 67 cents stays in the local community, and each dollar spent spurs an additional 50 cents in local business activity. Adds Kovar, “If the money you spend stays in your neighborhood, why wouldn’t you want to support your next-door neighbor and make your neighborhood more vibrant?”
Beyond brick and mortar
As local businesses prepare for an influx of in-person shopping, they are also ramping up their online offerings to meet demand in that realm. With many Americans being essentially homebound, e-commerce has skyrocketed in 2020—up 32% year-over-year—and many neighborhoods are extending that mentality into Small Business Saturday.
According to Jones, DSCDO has not only developed an online listing of neighborhood businesses to help Clevelanders better plan their in-person shopping excursions, but they’ll also be sending a dedicating newsletter highlighting local shops and spots selling online. Additionally, the community development organization has been working with Detroit Shoreway-based stores like Artful Living Boutique to beta test and support their new online storefronts.
As Jones sees it, empowering stores to sell online is also a contingency plan of sorts. “With the governor’s orders looming, that could throw a wrench in [in-person shopping], so we’re trying to be prepared,” shares Jones.
Of course, Jones is hopeful that in-person shopping will be an option on Small Business Saturday, especially in light of Flight Cleveland hosting a Christmas tree sale on its patio and 78th Street Studios having a coming-out party of sorts. “They've scaled back their Third Fridays events and otherwise haven’t been open to the public, so Black Friday and Small Business Saturday will be the first time in a long time they are open for shopping outside of Third Fridays,” Jones says of 78th Street Studios.
Jones also points local shoppers to the new app Maker Town—the brainchild of Detroit Shoreway local Suzie Frazier. The app provides an interactive listing and shopping portal for more than 500 artists and makers in Northeast Ohio. “One view of the app shows just how many creatives are living and selling in Gordon Square, and throughout all of Cleveland,” says Jones.
The #ShopSmallCrawl in AsiaTown and MidTown also includes an online component, encouraging participants to post pictures on social media using the hashtag and to tag both neighborhoods. Says Kovar, “We wanted all of the businesses to feel extremely supported, both online and in-person.”
Going beyond Small Business Saturday
With 16 linear miles of commercial corridor, Old Brooklyn is a neighborhood with no shortage of small businesses. According to Old Brooklyn Community Development Corporation’s Jeff Verespej, the CDC has done “standard passport-style experiences” in the past for Small Business Saturday, but this year, they’re thinking out of the box—and beyond the holidays.
“The traditional focus has been on Small Business Saturday through Christmas Eve, but we’ll be putting a greater emphasis on the months of January, February, and March than we will be the next five weeks,” says Verespej, OBCDC’s executive director. “It sounds counterintuitive, but those early months are when businesses lose 80% of their revenue. If they lose 80% of their revenue in a good year, what will those months be like in 2021?”
Verespej says OBCDC is hoping to offset those losses through a three-fold marketing push: helping local businesses “create infrastructure” for in-home experiences (such as wine tastings and home repair workshops); organizing pop-up events highlighting Old Brooklyn businesses such as Honey Hut Ice Cream and Irie Jamaican Kitchen; and incentivizing residents to take part in #TakeoutTuesday and other ongoing initiatives by offering small stipends for neighborhood improvement and beautification projects.
“We’re hoping to use small dollar amounts to leverage goodwill from the community,” says Verespej of the third aspect. “Old Brooklyn residents really showed up for local businesses this spring, so we’re hoping to find ways to be the ‘carrot’ for residents to take that on again.”
Jones says that DSCDO will also be continuing its #ShopLocal campaign well beyond Small Business Saturday, especially in light of the fact that several new businesses are opening their doors inside the Gordon Square Arcade, such as Big Mamma’s Burritos, Focus lash|skin|brow, and Reverie Gifts.
“We’re excited, but it’s a tricky time for any new business, so we want to support them any way we can,” says Jones. “The overall goal is to keep our business district full and vibrant so that we can continue to have great neighborhoods after the pandemic.”
This story is part of FreshWater’s new yearlong series, Community Development Connection, in partnership with Cleveland Neighborhood Progress and Cleveland Development Advisors and funded in-part by a Google Grant. The series seeks to raise awareness about the work of 29 Community Development Corporations (CDCs) as well as explore the efforts of neighborhood-based organizations, leaders, and residents who are focused on moving their communities forward during a time of unprecedented challenge.