Forgive us, for a moment, if we ignore the frenzy of Black Friday and look ahead to Small Business Saturday.
While today marks the unofficial start of the Christmas shopping season — as advertisements from large retailers have been reminding us for weeks — today is earmarked for holiday purchases at small businesses. So allow us to make a pitch for local businesses that might not be able to afford TV advertising campaigns or glossy eight-page inserts in the newspaper. Small businesses don’t have the economic might for million-dollar marketing efforts, but collectively they have the ability to power the local economy.
Look at it this way: When you shop at a big-box store that has a national profile, state and local sales tax is collected and local employees are supported, but the profit gets sent to a far-off headquarters for a company that pays corporate taxes in its home state. In contrast, when you shop at a locally owned store, the sales tax and employee wages remain in Washington, but so do the businesses’ taxes and the salary for a locally based proprietor.
There are obvious benefits to supporting a store owner who lives in the community rather than one who lives in, say, Bentonville, Ark.
That is the gist behind Small Business Saturday. Admittedly, the “holiday” is contrived, having been created by American Express in 2010. Designed to counter Black Friday and Cyber Monday, which promote large retailers and e-commerce, it encourages shoppers to visit local brick-and-mortar stores.
The demise of such stores has been predicted for decades, tracing back to when shopping malls first drew patrons away from traditional downtowns. Over the past four decades, with deregulation leading to an increase in mergers and the power of megastores, it has been difficult for small retailers to remain competitive.
A study released last week by Washington State University’s Carson College of Business, however, provides some hope for small businesses. Many shoppers still are drawn to the customer service of a brick-and-mortar outlet, along with the prospect of shopping instead of merely buying. “We’ve found shoppers often find inspiration for gifts while perusing the aisles and value in-person customer service and the ability to see and feel the products,” WSU’s Joan Giese said.
We hope that extends to Clark County’s small businesses on the day dedicated to them. Then again, there is nothing small about small business.
According to the U.S. Small Business Association, small businesses account for 99.5 percent of all companies in Washington and for more than 50 percent of employment. According to the city of Vancouver’s website, about 95 percent of the city’s employers are small businesses. Of course, not all of them are retail outlets that can provide that perfect Christmas gift, but local retailers continue to provide a boost for local economies.
All of which leads us to support Small Business Saturday. As Chris Myers wrote for Forbes.com in 2015: “Is it really so troubling that small businesses make a momentary appeal for support amidst the suffocating din of holiday advertisements from their larger, more resourced counterparts?” When you consider the benefits that come with shopping from a local retailer, no it is not.
Small Business Saturday might not carry the shop-till-you-drop excitement of Black Friday or the shop-in-your-pajamas comfort of Cyber Monday, but the effort of visiting local stores can pay off throughout the year for the entire community.