Local merchants entice shoppers on 'Small Business Saturday'

SEATTLE -- Local merchants say the national campaign called Small Business Saturday is helping independently-owned stores better compete against the big retailers.

"It's easy for the little guy to feel overshadowed by all the big retail advertising for Black Friday," says Stu Hennessey, owner of Alki Bike and Board in West Seattle. "We think creating awareness about the advantage of spending in your neighborhood helps us."

American Express launched the campaign in 2010 to help small, locally-owned businesses increase their holiday sales. It also hoped to increase the number of small businesses that accept it's credit card.

A survey conducted by a national small-business trade group indicates the campaign is raising consumer awareness. Four-out-of-ten respondents say they have heard of Small Business Saturday, compared with three-out-of-four the previous year.

Hennessey says it's about more than making sales. It's about making relationships.

"There is a movement. There are a lot of people understanding the value in keeping dollars in your own neighborhood," he says. "Businesses then reinvest some of that, whether it goes to projects being done in your streets or in your schools, your parks."

One of his customers, Carolyn Henning, says she prefers the personalized experience of shopping at a neighborhood store.

"People already know what your hobbies are. They know what you need for your bike. They probably saw you a couple times before," says Henning.

She says her family considers the employees at Alki Bike and Board friends, which invites a far different shopping experience at bigger stores.

"You're walking through a big warehouse and people don't know your name. All they know is you've messed up their pack of sweaters and then they've got to fold up the sweaters again," she laughs.

Small store owners say it's extremely difficult to compete against the massive advertising budgets of national chains. But some stores are trying to offer more discounts, and spread word about those deals through social media like Facebook and Twitter.

Hennessey says he is also leading an effort to encourage merchants in his neighborhood to create special holiday events in the future, like a small tree-lighting ceremony outdoors, to attract more shoppers.

"If we as small businesses band together today, we have some ability to dazzle the public as well," he says.

Hennessey also believes merchants have to support one another.

"When I go shopping as a small business owner I'm going to the small businesses, especially the ones in my neighborhood," he says. "I really make it a point to do that."