Small Business Saturday promotes local shops

Gift Adventures may be the hub for downtown businesses to celebrate Small Business Saturday — an initiative started by American Express in 2010 to promote small businesses nationwide.

“We have a very unique town,” said Steve Artz, owner of Gift Adventures, 137 E. Beaver Ave. “It’s a wonderful town here that is filled with the uniqueness of the mom-and-pop stores, giving the community a chance to see products that they don’t get to see at the big stores.”

Artz is hosting James Byrnes, a Bellefonte artist who will set up outside of Gift Adventures and demonstrate his work with other artists.

“It’s promoting him as a small-business person, the store, and I’m going to have a couple of our other people who are doing things in here perhaps with hot chocolate, cookies and looking into getting live entertainment,” Artz said.

Artz, who has been a part of the State College small-business community for more than 37 years, stressed the importance of supporting local businesses.

“We need to maintain an individuality. Years ago, we would try to make the best window environment we could so when you walk out of a store and walk around the corner, what do you have? That element of discovery,” Artz said. “We’re losing that. I want to be able to walk out, go around the corner and say, ‘Wow, look what we have here.’ ”

Promotional help also comes from the Downtown State College Improvement District, said Executive Director George Arnold.

“We’ve certainly been doing that and doing a variety of advertising,” Arnold said. “One of the benefits to shopping local is that money gets reinvested in the community, and that’s what folks don’t realize. That money gets sent back to retailers of a locally owned store.”

On weekends that are nice enough to wander through downtown State College, Dave and Brenda Iacchelli said they hit as many small businesses as possible.

“There is a lot of uniqueness that you wouldn’t normally get at Wal-Mart or Target,” said Brenda Iacchelli. “Sometimes we’ll purchase a photo or painting, look at the name on the bottom and recognize it. I like that tight-knit relationship that small businesses have with the community.”

Last year during Small Business Saturday, Artz said he met patrons who told him they come downtown and buy something from every locally owned store, even if it’s as little as a greeting card.

“They are doing that,” he said. “And this is what we need to do or we won’t be here and will be filled with national retailers. Not that it’s a bad thing, but there needs to be that balance. We are so lucky to be in a town like State College that has business owners who are so much for the community.”

Some other stores in the effort to promote small business include Growing Tree Toys, 202 S. Allen St., and Kitchen Kaboodle, 104 W. Beaver Ave.

“We’re part of the community, and just like that we want to keep promoting small business that drive downtown,” said Kay Emigh, owner of Growing Tree Toys.

This year, Arnold said, the downtown group has taken a more global approach.

“Instead of just investing in one day, we’re trying to just get State College on the top of people’s minds for the entire holiday season,” Arnold said.

But the main objective is to get people shopping locally.

According to the 2013 Small Business Consumer Insights Survey, 44 percent of U.S. consumers are aware of Small Business Saturday — up from 34 percent in 2012. Of those aware of Small Business Saturday, 77 percent plan to “shop small” this year.

“I’m a small business helping to promote other small businesses, Artz said. “I want this to be huge.”