Wilmington-area retailers say 2020’s Small Business Saturday has added importance

Small Business Saturday was born in the midst of a recession, created by the American Express company in 2010 to highlight those businesses that can easily get overlooked in the Black Friday push. 

Now, 10 years later, the day may be more important than ever for local economies.

During the turmoil surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, many economists are saying that small businesses are especially vulnerable to closing permanently.  

“Retailers and restaurants have had it tough, the brick-and-mortars,” said Karen Sphar, with the Southport-Oak Island Area Chamber of Commerce.

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The organization has been a part of helping Brunswick County businesses participate in the shopping holiday, which takes place on Nov. 28 this year, from the beginning. 

For 2020, they’ve had to get creative. 

They’re asking shoppers to post selfies to social media with the “ShopSmall” hashtag.  And they’ve borrowed an idea from an Ohio counterpart to host an online tool where shoppers can buy gifts from several the Southport and Oak Island retailers all at one site. 

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Pender County’s new campaign, ‘It Matters Where You Shop,’ started this month to raise awareness of the importance of sustaining our local businesses. And Wilmington Downtown Inc. started the “Go Downtown” online holiday gift guide.

Mia's Marketplace and Coral Cottage Boutiques in Surf City 
 are hosting an outdoor holiday market the weekend after Thanksgiving.

But many businesses are doing their own thing, like hosting an outdoor market or offering free toffee. 

“We have been in business for 14 years selling gourmet toffee, mostly cash and carry at trade shows,” said Lauren Rich, with the Carolina Candy Company. “That’s obviously not happening right now.”

She and her sister, Brooke Harrell, both work at the business owned by their parents Kimbery and Charles Smith. With their typical business model upended, they decided to renovate their storefront at 1045 S. Kerr Ave. and to make the most of the relationships they’ve developed over the years.

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As a result, they sell other products made by small businesses, many of them regional or local. But you’ll also find things like Bloody Mary Mix out of Texas or a New York-based gourmet peanut butter. 

Beginning Black Friday, and continuing through the weekend, they’re offering discounts and candy samples -- and every purchase of $50 or more will get a free quarter-pound of toffee. 

The Carolina Candy Company in Wilmington sells house-made toffee and candy, as well as other products made by small businesses.

“This isn’t just about trying to replace our revenue,” Rich said. “We are really all about small business.”

Sandi Lowry of Mia’s Marketplace and Becky Borneman or Coral Cottage Boutiques have neighboring businesses in Surf City, and a communal deck that goes mostly unused

“We have a great landlord and this big area where we can social distance,” Lowry said.

They are hosting an outdoor holiday market this weekend with six other local vendors and food trucks like Southern Roots, which serves up comfort food like chicken-fried steak sandwiches, coconut shrimp and something called apple-pie nachos. 

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“It’s been a challenging year,” Lowry said. “But as retailers we can’t sit around. We have to change it up and try new things.”

Look for another event here, a sip-and-shop, in December. These business and others, from Carolina Sisters boutique in Burgaw to Brunswick County's Southport Trading Co., all hope to help push Small Business Saturday spending beyond the $19.6 billion spent in 2019.

Because 67 cents for every dollar spent at a small business stays in the local economy, that money can have a positive ripple effect, according to American Express. 

To get more ideas about what local businesses are offering, check out the Facebook post for Southport-Oak Island Chamber of Commerce, Shop Pender County and Wilmington Downtown Inc. They’ll all highlight different retailers this shopping season. 

“Our businesses weathered Hurricane Florence, only to be struck by COVID restrictions,” said Tammy Proctor, Pender County Tourism director. “This year, more than ever, it is important to support our own businesses.”