As a joyous holiday spirit filled the crisp autumn air, shops along Fredericksburg’s Caroline Street and its side streets came to life for their biggest shopping day of the year.
Merchants and shoppers alike were ready for Small Business Saturday.
“It’s our Super Bowl holiday, where customers come in and we thank them with specials, free gifts, show off our space and all the nice and shiny holiday décor,” said April Peterson, president of the board of directors of Fredericksburg Virginia Main Street, the local organizers of the event.
Small Business Saturday featured more than 60 local businesses that were tagged with blue and white balloons to signify their participation in the event. Shops opened doors early to welcome a steady, cheerful flow of excited shoppers who came to show their support for local businesses, while exploring some of downtown’s most pleasant nooks and crannies.
“Small Business Saturday focuses on independently owned businesses, specifically downtown businesses,” said Chaz Kilby, promotions chair for Fredericksburg Virginia Main Street. “Most of them are running specials and they’re ready for the masses.”
The nationwide event was created in the midst of the 2010 recession by the financial services corporation American Express, to help bring back customers to local small businesses.
The following year, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a resolution in support of the day, and, by 2018, there were more than 7,500 participating businesses in 50 states.
Spending on the day has now reached an estimated $103 billion, according to surveys commissioned by American Express.
One of the biggest upsides of the effort is, for every dollar spent at a small business in the U.S., approximately 67 cents stays in the local community.
“The downtown shopping district is thriving and unlike the big box stores, the old town merchants put a lot of heart into what they do, and they need the community’s support,” Kilby said.
Kilby said in addition to the usual exceptional merchandise being offered on Saturday in downtown stores, the retailers also offered a full range of one-of-a-kind specials, including food samples, art demonstrations and other activities prepared especially for the event.
Carla Deutsch of Spotsylvania County said she does the majority of her Christmas shopping on Small Business Saturday. Each year, she invites her friends to join her in the downtown area, then makes a full day of the experience.
“I never miss it, and I try to get here as soon as the stores open to support the small businesses,” said Deutsch. “Finding unique gifts, that’s what I’m always looking for, something that’s a little different.”
Peterson, a co-owner of River Rock Outfitter at 215 William St., along with her husband Keith, said shoppers are shying away from overcrowded shopping malls and are growing tired of the big box shopping experience.
“They’re still shopping online, but what they’re wanting is this community feel, and there’s a movement in this country, which is super exciting to see,” said Peterson. “They want to come in. … They want to touch it, they want to feel it, they just want to feel a community. … We have a beautiful historic downtown and that’s a unique experience for people.”
Theresa Boutchyard of Stafford County said she agrees that downtown Fredericksburg retailers offer shoppers the “community-type feeling” they will never experience at a shopping mall.
Boutchyard, who said she grew up supporting small businesses and goes out of her way to support them, uses the Small Business Saturday experience to shop, socialize, have lunch, and then shop even more.
“You get to know people, see old friends. It’s more relaxed,” Boutchyard said.
Fredericksburg residents Melissa Colombo and Rosie Ross started their Saturday morning with coffee and then a visit to Dog Krazy at 307 William St. From there, the pair headed for the blocks of shops, boutiques and art galleries in the heart of downtown.
“To support local business is very, very important and to be honest, I saved a little bit of my shopping for this day,” said Colombo. “Every business, it’s like you already know everybody, so when you’re walking in the door, they’re so happy to see you. It’s like family.”
“It’s so fun, we’re so excited,” said Ross. “We have Thanksgiving and it’s all about family time, but this day is all about coming out and seeing your business family. We’re out here seeing people we know and buying from people we know. It feels good to see our friends be successful.”
Rebecca Henkel, manager of Alan Furs–Bash Boutique at 804 Caroline St., said Fredericksburg’s downtown merchants are a close, tight-knit community. She believes the best perks that shoppers enjoy when they come through the doors of the city’s small businesses are exceptional personal service and attention to fine details.
“You can’t get that online,” said Henkel. “It doesn’t matter how good your customer service is on the phone, you can’t touch it, you can’t feel it, you can’t try it on.”
Stefany Jennings, who co-owns Peacaloo Boutique at 720 Caroline St. along with Wendy Clare, has been participating in Small Business Saturday since 2014.
“We actually make as much as we make the whole month of January on this one day,” Jennings said. “I wish every Saturday was Small Business Saturday.”