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With Black Friday over, focus turns to small businesses

  • Dana Tarr, left, of Leverett, and her daughter, Michaela Tarr, of Amherst, shop at the Hampshire Mall Friday.

    Dana Tarr, left, of Leverett, and her daughter, Michaela Tarr, of Amherst, shop at the Hampshire Mall Friday. Purchase photo reprints »

  • Santa Claus waits for children near the Christmas tree at center court in the Hampshire Mall Friday. Mall shoppers were sparse, often leaving Santa with idle time.

    Santa Claus waits for children near the Christmas tree at center court in the Hampshire Mall Friday. Mall shoppers were sparse, often leaving Santa with idle time. Purchase photo reprints »

  • Dana Tarr, left, of Leverett, and her daughter, Michaela Tarr, of Amherst, shop at the Hampshire Mall Friday.
  • Santa Claus waits for children near the Christmas tree at center court in the Hampshire Mall Friday. Mall shoppers were sparse, often leaving Santa with idle time.

With Black Friday firmly in the rear-view mirror, small businesses in three of Hampshire County’s largest communities are hoping shoppers will turn their attention inward — as in, to their downtown shops.

While attempts to lure shoppers have become year-round phenomena, business leaders, chambers of commerce and business improvement districts are all launching initiatives over the next few weeks designed to remind people why it’s important to shop local.

“It is amazing all that can be found when you shop locally and pricing is competitive, especially when the shopper considers the added benefits of keeping your dollars at home,” Eric A. Snyder, executive director of the Greater Easthampton Chamber of Commerce, said in a recent letter to the editor to the Gazette.

In Easthampton, Northampton, Amherst and elsewhere, small business owners are hoping to get a boost today from a fledgling, national promotion called Small Business Saturday.

American Express created the day three years ago, it says, to help small businesses struggling during the recession. The idea is to put small businesses in the spotlight during a weekend when they used to be all but forgotten in an avalanche of discounts offered by chain stores and online retailers.

In its plea to shoppers to “drop in on a neighbor” for Small Business Saturday, the National Federation of Independent Business said it’s not just the big box stores that rely on holiday shoppers to make or break their businesses.

“Small businesses in your town, run by folks you probably know, are also counting on strong holiday sales to turn a profit this year or perhaps to survive another year,” said Bill Vernon, Massachusetts director of the National Federation of Independent Business.

According to a federation survey, 74 percent of small business owners say they have volunteered for local charities, civic organizations, church groups and youth sports organizations. Some 70 percent say they’ve given in-kind contributions to community groups, schools, civic organizations and charitable events.

Though he’s not sure what the effect this new shopping holiday has at the local level, the leader of the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce said the message behind the campaign — supporting local businesses — is one the chamber supports year-round.

“Small Business Saturday is the newest holiday made up by credit card companies, but we think it’s great,” said Executive Director Tony Maroulis.

Though there are no elaborate plans to mark Small Business Saturday at the local level, several communities are launching events designed to entice customers this holiday season.

Easthampton ‘bag day’

In Easthampton, downtown business owners have joined together to host today their version of Northampton’s longtime tradition of Bag Day.

Shoppers don’t have to have a special bag to get discounts, as in Northampton, so organizers are billing it as a BYOB, or “bring your own bag,” event.

Danielle Marble, the manager of Popcorn Noir on Cottage Street, came up with the idea and hopes it will be an annual event.

“I had enjoyed Bag Day in Northampton and thought it was such a wonderful idea for bringing people out of the malls and into the local stores, where their dollars stay in the local economy,” she said.

More than 20 businesses on Main, Union and Cottage streets are participating in the event, offering “deep discounts,” buy-one-get-one specials and other offers, Marble said. “Each business is doing something different, because we want to let each shop decide what was appropriate for them,” she said.

In addition to the deals, some of the participating businesses are also hosting art displays, musical performances and “pop-up shops,” where artisans set up displays of their products for a one-time sale.

At Popcorn Noir, a pop-up shop called Loop will offer “eco-chic” wares by six local artists who recycle items to create art, clothing, accessories and more.

Also in honor of Small Business Saturday, a group of five downtown businesses called Quintessence Easthampton will hold its second annual “progressive hors d’oeuvre and dessert soiree” from 3 to 5 p.m.

Attendees can sample food from five Pacific Rim countries while going from one business to the next. It begins at Eastmont Custom Framing at 3 p.m., with guests continuing on to Harry King Rug & Home, the Nash Gallery, KW Home and ending at White Square Fine Books & Art, where there will be a dessert table and raffle drawing for people who have visited each of the five shops that day.

Greeting Card Day in Amherst

Amherst is offering free parking Saturday throughout downtown in honor of Small Business Saturday, and will do the same thing on Dec. 1 for its annual Greeting Card Day.

Sponsored by the Daily Hampshire Gazette, customers can use a greeting card inserted in the Nov. 30 Amherst Bulletin to get 20 percent discounts on merchandise and gift certificates at stores and restaurants.

The town will also extend free parking on Saturdays throughout December, allowing people to park in all lots that use pay-by-space machines. This includes the Boltwood parking garage, the municipal lot next to the CVS pharmacy parking lot, the Town Hall parking lot and the Main, Spring and Amity street lots.

Maroulis said the free parking is intended to entice people to visit downtown.

Free parking is “the one advantage the malls have over downtowns,” he said.

The Select Board Monday approved these requests from the Chamber, though motorists must continue to feed meters for on-street spots on those days.

Town Manager John Musante said this continues a tradition. “We’re encouraging people to buy local,” he said.

Amherst’s traditional kickoff for the holiday season, the chamber-sponsored Merry Maple tree lighting celebration, is scheduled for Nov. 30 at about 4 p.m. at the North Common in front of Town Hall. The celebration will feature more lights for the trees and new designer decorations for the light posts.

The Merry Maple trees are only part of the effort to brighten downtown throughout December, as the town’s business improvement district commissioned an Ashfield artist to create translucent red, gold, yellow and orange stars that are placed over the streetlights.

The BID also plans to offer a “warm winter treats” program in which customers could sample goodies and sip on hot cider. The Chamber is also trying to launch a gift certificate program for Amherst similar to one offered in by the Greater Northampton Chamber of Commerce.

The Northampton gift card is honored by more than 65 city shops, restaurants, salons and more. The card is sold in any denomination at the chamber office on Pleasant Street, a self-service kiosk in Thornes Marketplace, by phone or at www.explorenorthampton.com.

Holiday lights in Northampton

As it has the last couple of years, the city’s BID is also sponsoring a holiday lights program that involves lighting up downtown buildings, trees and poles. The lights were unveiled the day before Bag Day began last weekend. Bag Day, held each year the weekend before Thanksgiving, marks the start of the holiday shopping season in Northampton.

The BID also provides the lights for the city’s annual holiday tree lighting in Pulaski Park. That lighting is scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 1, from 4:30 to 6 p.m.

The free, family-friendly event will feature Santa, who will arrive on a Northampton fire truck, and Mrs. Claus, who will lead the singing, as well as hot chocolate and cookies.

The lights are part of a larger holiday program sponsored and marketed by the BID. The program includes carolers, First Night fireworks and an advertising campaign through various media.

Like Easthampton, Northampton has a pop-up store called Knack at Signature Sounds, 32 Masonic St. The shop, open Saturdays through Dec. 22, offers a variety of gift items, home decor, jewelry and accessories created by more than 15 local artisans using at least 75 percent recycled or re-purposed materials.

Staff writers Rebecca Everett and Scott Merzbach contributed to this report.

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