Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Shopping local during the holidays: Small Business Saturday and beyond

The holiday shopping season is touched off by so called "Black Friday," the day after Thanksgiving.

The big chains offer lots of deal busters to get shoppers in stores, and over the past few years stores have been opening earlier and earlier, including no longer waiting til Friday and opening on Thanksgiving.

This year, while REI announced they would be closing on Black Friday ("Will REI's Closure on Thanksgiving, Black Friday Pay Dividends?," NBC News), some national chains opened as early as 3 pm on Thanksgiving.

Promotion of independent commercial districts and stores can be a hit or miss phenomenon.  Some retailers are good marketers, many are not.  The "Main Street commercial district revitalization approach" was developed to bring new resources to commercial districts, beyond that which are normally possessed by the typical business owner.

An example of a national program designed to promote small business, but that is realized only if local businesses and commercial districts organize to leverage it is Small Business Saturday.

The event was created a few years ago by the American Independent Business Alliance, the group that actively promotes the "Shop Local" movement,.to promote holiday shopping at local and independently owned businesses, as opposed to how most holiday shopping is focused on big box stores and national chains,

(Other "interest groups" have jumped on the bandwagon and have developed companion days riffing off Black Friday.  E-commerce retail aims to make the Monday after Thanksgiving their biggest shopping day of the season and year, calling it Cyber Monday, while nonprofit organizations promote receiving fundraising donations on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, Giving Tuesday.)

For the past few years, the event has been sponsored by American Express, which offers inducements to card members as an incentive to shop local on that day.  They also put a lot of money into marketing, advertising, and promotional support.

(That affiliation with American Express was too corporate for Takoma Park's Old Takoma Business Association, which created its own parallel event but without signing on to the American Express effort.)

This year, American Express stopped providing to its members a $10 to $30 shopping credit ("American Express cuts back on perk for Small Business Saturday," Chicago Tribune) for the day. Some argue this will cut participation, but I don't think an economic inducement is absolutely necessary.

The economic value of shopping locally.  Research results are piling up demonstrating the thesis that spending money in stores based locally has greater economic benefit than shopping in chain stores, which buy few services locally (excepting labor) and don't spend profits locally.

See "Economic impact of locally owned hardware stores vs. big box stores," which discusses an economic impact study done by the North American Retail Hardware Association, which also produced "shop local" holiday promotional materials for this holiday season.

Reminders to shop local are necessary.  A big campaign promoting shopping at independently owned stores and in traditional, usually town-city based shopping districts as opposed to shopping malls, reminds people that spending money at locally-owned stores is important.

The reality is, with so many other marketing messages, people need to be educated and reminded.  Hopefully, the kind of inducement previously offered by American Express to their cardholders isn't required.

I think this is likely to be the case, because so many other retailers and independent shopping districts are now participating in the program, and marketing to consumer base that goes beyond the segment comprised of American Express credit card holders.

The North Park commercial district in San Diego has a great gateway sign.  San Diego funds business improvement efforts with the equivalent of a BID assessment, but many of the programs are organized as "Main Street" programs, which are more volunteer-based groups compared to staff-driven "downtown" associations driven by property owners.

One example of how a county business promotion division is using "Small Business Saturday" as a way to promote its businesses and business districts is Macomb County, Michigan.  See "Macomb County Shops Make Big Deal of Small Business Saturday," C&G Newspapers.

Signboard listing holiday events in Takoma Park's Old Town Takoma commercial district.  

Holiday marketing beyond Small Business Saturday. Many community business districts have figured out the holiday season, providing a large number of events and activities in a coordinated fashion.  In the DC region, Fredericksburg, Virginia, Frederick, Maryland, and Takoma Park, Maryland do a  particularly good job.

In the Petworth neighborhood of DC, this year marks the 10th edition of the Upshur Street Arts & Crafts Fair on r on Saturday December 12th. Artisans sell items from booths on the street, and retail stores and restaurants participate as well. For the last couple years, the Friends of the Petworth Library have held a book sale at the library in conjunction with the event too.

Holiday Markets.  More cities are sponsoring holiday markets, modeled after the famous Christmas markets in Germany.  DC has its Downtown Holiday Market, on F Street between 7th and 9th Streets NW, next to the Smithsonian Museums there.  Baltimore has created a similar event.  Although I will say that a city needs to have a reasonably large population to make such an event work.

Hanukah.  The Jewish holiday of Hanukah isn't a gift-oriented holiday, although gift giving has become an element of it because of how the event and religion exists alongside other traditions.

More communities are recognizing that religious traditions other than Christian need to be better acknowledged when planning such activities.

NYC lights a menorah each year in Manhattan, billed as the "World's Largest Menorah," during the week long "Festival of Lights" in early December.

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At 5:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

1. Bummer about the Amex incentive. As a cardholder I liked that perk, but I understand that it probably wasn't sustainable.

2. No surprise about Takoma. They are probably like certain book stores I went to in the past. They immediately bark at you upon entry about your bag, then if you buy a book the clerk (or proprietor) sneers at you for not buying the "right" book.

3. I just was walking in the few blocks of my pop circa 40k burgh's downtown this afternoon, and apparently they can't be bothered since there were a lot of dark stores. Its a shame. You can lead a camel to water but you can't make him drink I guess. The well-run and reputable stores were open and busy as expected, but the laggards don't even have the sense to ride on their coattails and take advantage of the free marketing and promotion.

4. I'm favorable to the small business cause, but I've been burned many times, so I admit to preferring the predictability (hours, merchandise, service) of chains. I don't like having my time wasted. If a place has products and services that I like, they will get my business. Some businesses are just so badly run and their operators so lackadaisical in their business sense that I openly cheer for their demise so they can stop wasting space in the hopes that something better replaces them. I try to "shop small", but I'm not bending over backwards to throw my money away, and 3 strikes and you're definitely out.

At 11:06 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Thanks for writing, in response...

2. Takoma's not that bad, the bark is bigger than the bite.

3. As much as I believe in commercial district revitalization, it can be hard as hell working with merchants, who can be very much set in their ways. (E.g., last year, I stopped going to Eastern Market board meetings for about three months because I got so angry at one of the members--a merchant--sick and tired of hearing the same s*** for seven years, and tired of being belittled for arguing in favor of being responsive to customers and conditions in an urban-appropriate manner.)

My Main Street manager joke, "the most important tool for working with merchants is a two by four, crowbar, or brass knuckles" for persuasion purposes.

4. absolutely this is an issue. There is a fine line between "sentiment" and entitlement -- shop local because we deserve it -- vs. shop local because we work hard to get and keep your business.

That's why generally, I tend to question shop local campaigns, if the businesses aren't focused on keeping their end of the bargain. My experience is that the businesses promoting them are laggards rather than innovators. Takoma Park is an exception.



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