Small Business Saturday kicks off holiday retail season

Date Published: 
December 1, 2017

Sunny and relatively mild weather over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend blessed not only beach visitors but also local shopkeepers who ushered in the holiday season on a high note.

Owners of local retail businesses said the emphasis on “Small Business Saturday” definitely gave them a boost even bigger than Black Friday — the traditional highlight of the shopping year.

Amanda Zirn, manager of Bethany Beach Books on Garfield Parkway, said that, this year, the store saw “our best Small Business Saturday ever. It really kicked all the other Small Business Saturdays to the curb,” she said. “We had a line most of the day,” she added.

On that day, the store offered special tote bags for $5, which included coupons for a number of local businesses. The store received 100 of the bags from American Express as part of the Shop Small promotion, and they were very popular with customers, who were coming in asking for them before the weekend, Zirn said.

Proceeds from the sale of the bags were donated to a local domestic-violence shelter, she said.

Bethany Beach Books was busy on both Friday and Saturday, according to Zirn, who has been with the store for 11 years. She said she feels that the mild weather so far this season has helped to boost sales throughout the post-summer weeks known as the “shoulder season.”

Zirn also said her store has seen an increase in weekday foot-traffic in the past two off-seasons, which she attributes to the addition of the Bethany Beach Ocean Suites hotel to the boardwalk.

“I’ve tried to keep us well-stocked — way more than before,” she said. In the spirit of the deal-seekers on the Thanksgiving weekend, Bethany Beach Books offered a storewide sale through which “the more you buy, the more you save,” Zirn said.

Lori Smyth, owner of Tidepool Toys & Games — which has locations on the boardwalk in Bethany Beach and in Fenwick Island — said, “We always focus on Small Business Saturday” during the holiday weekend. “As a small specialty toy store, shopping local is the message we want to get out.”

Tidepool Toys hosted a Calico Critters tea party featuring the popular line of toys, with the idea that parents and grandparents could shop while the children participated in the party, Smyth said.

“The weather was perfect that day,” she said. “Lots of people were out.” Smyth said she had hoped to do at least as well as the store did last Thanksgiving weekend, and, “We actually did a little better,” she said, “so I’m happy with that.”

At Seaside Country Store in Fenwick Island, owner Amy Vickers said the weekend was a good way to end the store’s 48th season — although for her store, sales have been impacted since Internet shopping has gained popularity.

While Smyth said Tidepool Toys’ holiday shoppers seemed to be “a mix of locals and visitors,” Vickers said Seaside Country Store seemed to see more local shoppers. She said locals tend to come in every year for the store’s Thanksgiving weekend sales on food items. Since the store closes for the winter after the Thanksgiving weekend, “They like to come in and get the bargains,” Vickers said.

Vickers, who was in the store doing inventory this week, said she tries to “keep the displays really nice,” because she feels that “people come in for the entertainment of shopping” in a well-decorated brick-and-mortar store — something they don’t experience with the internet. “They come in for the familiar faces” as well, she said, and many customers like to chat with longtime staff members each year.

Still, Vickers said, she wants to spend some time trying to meet the challenges that increased internet shopping bring to small family-owned businesses like hers.

“Customer service — that’s what makes people come in,” she said, with simple services, such as gift-wrapping and “walking packages out to the car for them” being features that set small businesses apart.

Vickers agreed with Smyth that good weather tends to help sales during the off-season, while rainy weather tends to bring in more customers during the summer, because visitors then are looking for something to do when they can’t be on the beach.

While Seaside Country Store is closed for the season, Smyth said she is looking forward to the coming pre-holiday shopping season at Tidepool Toys and has planned some special activities for shoppers. This Saturday, for example, the store will host a special “Frozen” party with activities relating to the popular Disney movie.

“We’ll be open every day through New Year’s,” Smyth said.