Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 1, 2013

SALISBURY — Mike and Kathi O’Connell did not shop on Thanksgiving, when many national chains opened for the first time this year, or on Black Friday, traditionally the busiest shopping day of the year.
Instead, the O’Connells started their Christmas shopping on Saturday — Small Business Saturday, to be exact. And they headed downtown instead of driving to a mall or big box store.
“We made the decision to stay local today,” Mike said.
The couple hit several stores, including Stitchin’ Post Gifts, Caniche and the newly merged Literary Bookpost and Just the Thing. They crossed many items off their list and stopped in for a treat at the new Firehouse Sweets bakery.
“We found some things that we didn’t expect to find,” Kathi said, including gifts for their grandchildren.
Launched by American Express in 2010 to help increase the number of independent retailers that accept its credit cards, Small Business Saturday has taken on a life of its own. President Barack Obama even went shopping Saturday at an independent bookstore to help support the movement.
“It’s building momentum every year,” said Pam Hylton Coffield, who owns Stitchin’ Post Gifts. “We are running into more and more people who know about it.”
Tara Leonard and her mother, Teresa Leonard, who owns Frank’s Pawn Shop, came from Lexington to shop in downtown Salisbury Saturday. They picked out a hand-painted wine glass made in Rowan County at Stitchin’ Post.
“I despise even going to Winston-Salem,” Teresa said. “It’s been a while since I’ve been to the mall. We prefer the smaller shops.”
Because Small Business Saturday comes during an already busy shopping season, some retailers said it’s hard to know if the promotion actually increases sales. But merchants said regardless, they appreciate the increased awareness about supporting locally owned businesses.
“It really is important to shop local,” said Toni Julian, who took a break from shopping to allow daughter Victoria, 7, to ride the mechanical horse outside Critters Cards & Gifts. “We need to support our Rowan County small shops. We’ve got to keep everybody in business down here.”
Saturday’s sales were up over last year’s for Zinc, an eclectic home decor shop on Depot Street, co-owners Wendy Beeker and Amy Flynn Haynie said. Sales at Caniche were so brisk, co-owner Leslie Drye said she had to come in on her day off.
“We want to be the next Black Friday,” Drye said.
Caniche heavily promoted Small Business Saturday for the first time this year, offering special deals and putting out the word on Facebook and via email. So many customers responded, the gift boutique ran out of coupons and had to print more.
“We are well aware that people can go out of town, and they can shop online,” Drye said. “So we really appreciate it when they come into the shop.”
Mother-and-daughter pair Tammy and Sara Holmes took advantage of the sales at Caniche, buying Christmas gifts and a few items for themselves. While shopping local helps the economy, it’s also just more enjoyable, Tammy said.
“We just like the smaller shops, as opposed to going to the mall,” she said.
A few downtown merchants said Black Friday was actually more successful for them than Small Business Saturday.
Co-owner Jaime Davis said she arrived Friday morning at Stella Rose, a new boutique on South Main Street, to find people lined up at the door. She sold out of $10 fleece-lined leggings — 60 pair — and sold more than 250 scarves, quadrupling her sales on Black Friday last year in her previous location in Winston-Salem.
“They almost emptied us out,” Davis said.
Skinny Wheels Bike Shop sold four bikes on Black Friday, owner Eric Phillips said. Downtown Salisbury Inc. held its final Night Out event Friday, which merchants said helped bring people downtown.
Advocates for Small Business Saturday say shopping locally increases the odds of giving a gift that won’t be duplicated, and the money spent in small stores will circulate through the local economy.
“If you want to make a difference this holiday season, shop local and shop small,” said Gregg Thompson, North Carolina state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, the state’s leading small-business association.
The annual promotion helps spread the word that shopping “small” is important throughout the year — not just on the Saturday after Thanksgiving — to help friends and neighbors who contribute to the local economy and create jobs, supporters say.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.