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Like most people, it’s been several years since I’ve waded through in-person Black Friday crowds, but I’ve participated in the holiday virtually since 2020. After Thanksgiving dinner, I retire to the couch and start filling up shopping carts on my phone, trying to accomplish my holiday shopping while the best deals are live.
This year, I plan to do something different. Make no mistake; I’ll probably still be lazing on the couch on Thursday evening. But I’m going to do the bulk of my holiday shopping two days later than usual — on Small Business Saturday.
Nested between the consumerist mega-holidays Black Friday and Cyber Monday is something more wholesome, yet equally American. Small Business Saturday was created by American Express in 2011 to encourage people to do some of their holiday shopping at small businesses. The holiday has caught on with consumers, with nearly 6 in 10 holiday shoppers planning to participate this year, according to a November 2022 survey by Bankrate.
Here’s why I’m skipping Black Friday for Small Business Saturday this year, and how I’m planning for it.
Why I’m shopping small
I’ve lived in Charlotte, North Carolina, for the last 20 years, and one thing that’s remained constant here is growth. Since 2010, Charlotte’s population has grown 16.3 percent, far outpacing North Carolina (9.5 percent) and the U.S. as a whole (7.4 percent), according to an analysis by the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance.
Many new businesses have cropped up in recent years — from sports apparel shops to boutiques to gourmet ice cream shops. But, while I’m a huge fan of many of the developments that have taken place to accommodate the city’s booming growth rate, it’s bittersweet. As exciting as a new brewery or corporate headquarters is, it’s hard to watch mom-and-pop businesses get shouldered aside, either closing entirely or relocating to more affordable areas of town, as rent increases price them out.
It’s a complex issue, but my takeaway has been to make a point of supporting the small businesses I value. If you’ll be sad to see a favorite shop shut down, don’t wait until you hear they’re going out of business to visit. Show up — and bring your wallet.
Small Business Saturday is one way I’m putting my money where my mouth is. Here’s how I’m going about it.
How to shop on Small Business Saturday
Small Business Saturday always falls on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and this year that’s Nov. 26, 2022. I’ll be shopping for my two siblings, three parents, my childhood best friend and my significant other. I’ll use a combination of rewards credit cards on Small Business Saturday, ensuring I get maximum cash back.
I’m hoping to get the bulk of my shopping done on Saturday, and to aid this goal, I’ve planned ahead. Here’s how you can, too.
Local Small Business Saturday events
Luckily, Charlotte has market pop-ups year-round. And a quick Google search of “Charlotte Small Business Saturday” revealed a decade-old tradition around this holiday. Several open-air markets take over popular, walkable areas on that Saturday every year, hosting more than 200 vendors in total.
Sipping a coffee and walking through a market is one of my favorite Saturday morning activities, so I’ll certainly show up to the Small Business Saturday market with a tote bag ready. One of the markets, called Shop Small Saturdays, will be open in December as well, so I can do my shopping in waves if I need to.
I recommend starting with a similar search for your city to find the largest events.
Organize your own small business tour
If your city isn’t hosting anything specific for Small Business Saturday, that doesn’t mean you can’t participate.
Lots of cities have general markets on Saturdays, which are convenient for holiday shopping because you can park once, and browse hundreds of types of merchants. Even if it’s, say, a farmer’s market, you might find good stocking stuffers or small gifts, like handmade soap, locally-roasted coffee or small-batch hot sauce.
Another option is to make a list of your favorite local shops and dedicate a few hours to a shopping spree. If you need help brainstorming, American Express has a Small Business Saturday map that you can plug your ZIP code into to find participating businesses. Of course, you don’t have to limit your shopping to businesses that show up on American Express’ map, but these may be more likely to host sales or promotions since they’ve registered with Amex ahead of time.
It’s great to support your local community when you can, but the internet makes it possible to shop small all over the U.S. Consider supporting an Etsy shop, artist or other small business digitally on Small Business Saturday. Check out our list of unique gifts that support small businesses for inspiration.
Gift cards: the crowd-pleaser
I love to shop, but I understand why some people dread holiday shopping. The crowds are one thing, and then there’s the pressure to find the right gift for everyone on your list. If you’ve searched for the perfect gift for hours only to end up buying the dreaded candle, I can assure you, you’re not alone.
Enter gift cards. From the business owner’s perspective, a sale is a sale, but a gift card can save you from endless deliberation. Check the business’s website or call ahead to see if you can purchase a gift card.
Gift cards also open up a whole new category of gift-giving: restaurants. I’ll probably choose this route for my dad and stepmom. I struggle with their gifts because they’re very clutter-conscious. I think they would really appreciate a gift card to their favorite local restaurant, though.
The bottom line
I’m an idealist at heart, so I tend to get romantic about world-bettering initiatives like Small Business Saturday. At the same time, I live by moderation. I’m not going to put stress on the joy of gift giving by forcing myself to only buy local holiday gifts. Small Business Saturday is my starting point. I will be thrilled if I check off my entire list in one day, but I’m open to filling in the gaps with big-box retailers.
For example, I’m interested to see what I find for my brother on Small Business Saturday. He tends to love tech gadgets, so I’m not sure if I’ll find a good fit while shopping small. But who knows? I may be surprised. Either way, the intentionality of supporting small businesses is what matters.