State College

Small Business Saturday a boost for local businesses

Denise Reynolds and her son, Marc Reynolds, of Seattle, window shop in downtown State College in 2013.
Denise Reynolds and her son, Marc Reynolds, of Seattle, window shop in downtown State College in 2013. Centre Daily Times, file

According to a certain porous philosopher who lives under the sea, the best time to wear a sweater is all the time. But during the holiday season, those words ring truer than usual.

Because baby, it’s cold outside.

“December is traditionally always one of our busiest months of the year,” said Brian Cohen, the owner of Harper’s in State College. “People feel like buying and are in the giving mood.”

Rather than hibernating, businesses large and small bootstrap through the bustle of the holidays. The opening bell chimes on Black Friday, a day on which consumers spent $10.4 billion in stores in 2015. A day later, dubbed Small Business Saturday by creator American Express, it’s the Mom-and-Pop shops around the country that take center stage.

America’s most famous neighbor sported a sweater. Why not buy one from your own?

Harper’s, for instance, starts stocking merinos well ahead of time, mapping out its marketing plan six to seven months in advance. The custom tailor and apparel store, which has been in town for 90 years, has noticed gearing up early is now de rigueur.

It’s not really Black Friday anymore. It’s really the whole weekend.

Brian Cohen, owner of Harper’s

“It’s not really Black Friday anymore,” Cohen said. “It’s really the whole weekend.”

This year, Small Business Saturday also falls on the last Penn State home football game of the year. Based on previous attendance records, it’s safe to assume the Michigan State tilt will bring more than 300 visitors through State College. Penn State’s win over Iowa, for example, had a crowd of 106,194.

For small businesses, it’s the perfect storm.

“That changes the whole mixture of that Thanksgiving shopping weekend,” Cohen said.

Across the country, Small Business Saturday accounted for more than $16 billion in 2015, a 14 percent increase from 2014. According to American Express, it was the best year on record since the day’s invention in 2010.

Terri Schleiden, the marketing director for Penn’s Cave and Wildlife Park, said the holidays usher in aesthetic changes.

On a crisp Friday in November, crews were assembling festive lighting displays. Doors were being festooned with decorative wreaths, while Santa’s sleigh was docking early. In two days, Schleiden said, everything would be completed.

“In December, we’re actually only open on Saturdays and Sundays,” she said. “But the way in which we decorate, you’d think we’d be open every single day.”

For some, the holiday shopping season kicks off in force on Small Business Saturday. And while marketing budgets are tighter, there are benefits to being a familiar face.

“Knowing your customer, seeing them again and again,” Cohen said, “it allows us to reach out to them and actually talk to them personally.”