Saturday, November 28, is Small Business Saturday, an annual shopping holiday supporting local entrepreneurs, brick-and-mortar stores, and other small-scale goods and services providers. The community-focused holiday, which is celebrating a decade since its inception this year, falls just two days after Thanksgiving and is nestled between the mammoth shopping holidays of Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
However, businesses large and small are in the midst of an economic crisis, and the COVID-19 pandemic has ushered in public health mandates such as social distancing and self-quarantine measures. As such, many brick-and-mortar businesses have shuttered to prevent the spread of the virus, and others that have remained open are finding it particularly difficult to meet customer demands and manage public health concerns around COVID-19 simultaneously.
As we transition into 2021, the economic situation for many businesses remains uncertain, but Small Business Saturday presents an excellent opportunity to support local entrepreneurs and invest much-needed dollars into our local economies — and it also serves as a good reminder to do so year-round.
Becoming 'Resilient With a Quickness'
How have small businesses been faring during the pandemic? Yelp estimated in September that roughly 60 percent of businesses reviewed on its website would be closing permanently. Despite the negative outlook, however, many entrepreneurs are displaying remarkable resilience and finding creative ways to stay in business.
Many have added new services to keep their employees and customers safe and grow their business at the same time. Nino's Laundry, located in Boston's Back Bay neighborhood, is one business taking additional steps to ensure that its services are both high-quality and provided with care.
"We've implemented a pickup and delivery service that allows customers to remain in the comfort and safety of their homes while their clothes are being laundered," said Jason Wilfred Nino Merzeus, the shop's owner. "[Our customers'] decision to choose us is greatly appreciated and does not go unnoticed as we strive to make the laundry experience at Nino's Laundry as convenient and satisfactory as possible."
Other businesses are relying on a sense of community to pull through these tough times. Audrey Rose, owner of Age-Less Weigh-less, a medical spa operating in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, said that her staff had to make significant adjustments to their work to account for the pandemic. The spa, which offers Botox, laser treatment, IV vitamin therapy, and weight loss services, has had to cut down on the number of clients it sees each day, but demand is still high.
"Our overall goal is to keep our clients safe and not consider financial gains over safety," Rose said. "We want to provide a warm family environment, despite it being in an office."
The internet and other modern-day, digital business tools have also been critical to small businesses' ongoing financial stability. Herb N' Oasis is a new social-justice-oriented cafe in Boston's Dorchester neighborhood. Launched in the fall of 2019, its co-owner, Amanda-Janae (AJ) Briggs, said that the cafe had to shift to an e-commerce business model earlier this year when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
"When we learned there was talk of a virus coming from overseas that had catastrophic results, we had no idea what to expect," Briggs said. "Fast forward to mandates, restrictions, misinformation, and a complete overhaul in the way business is conducted as we knew it. Herb N' Oasis had to become resilient with a quickness."
Some local companies have been able to stay resilient simply because they offer a unique product or service that customers crave. Cheryl Straughter, owner of Soleil Restaurant in Boston's Roxbury neighborhood, said that while the restaurant has seen a decline in revenue, her business is still serving quality food to people looking for a great dining experience.
"Near Soleil there are a number of fast food and take-out only restaurants," Straughter said. "However, Soleil is different. We serve wholesome fresh food. Daily, we are cooking from scratch, and you can dine in."
Like many restaurants, Soleil had to adapt to the social distancing measures recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Straughter said the restaurant now provides outdoor seating, has contracts with third-party delivery services, and offers family-sized meals on its menu. She also emphasized that small businesses serve a vital role in neighborhoods across the nation:
"Small businesses employ approximately 11 million people across the country. They are the lifeline in many neighborhoods. Please think of the importance of keeping them alive and thriving. Your patronage is needed now more than ever."
3 Tips for Supporting Your Local Businesses
How can you make an impact on your community this Small Business Saturday? Here are three tips to help support local businesses on this holiday and through the year:
- Do your research. It's important to know what local businesses are in your community. Consider visiting the website of the local chamber of commerce for your city or town, or doing an internet search to learn more about the small businesses in your area.
- Be patient. If you plan to make a transaction on Small Business Saturday—or any other day—remember that local business owners are working on a smaller scale, so products like clothing, jewelry and baked goods may be in limited supply. If you have your eye on a blouse from a vendor's website or store, it may not be readily available if you peruse the shop. Try to enter local businesses with an open mind, and if the product you're looking for is in limited supply or sold out, you could check again later. Not only will checking in give you a reason to stay in touch with the vendor and explore its products and services, but it can also help with this next tip.
- Build a relationship. The pandemic has taught all of us how to depend on one another for mutual support. Frequenting your local businesses can help build relationships rooted in trust. By doing so, you can contribute to keeping the businesses open and invest in the economic prosperity of your community.
Mutual support has always been central to a functioning community, and it has taken on additional importance this year. Small Business Saturday may only fall on one day every year, but it's always a good time to help one another and support our local businesses.