Shoppers turned out in force in support of independently owned businesses across Aiken on Small Business Saturday.

Stores saw an uptick in business as shoppers sought out sales and unique gift ideas not readily available at large chain stores Saturday. Many shops offered special holiday weekend discounts, and American Express offered a one-time $25 credit on a single transaction of $25 or more at a participating merchant. FedEx got involved by giving away 40,000 $25 American Express Shop Small gift cards and vouchers for discounts on FedEx services via the delivery company's Facebook page earlier this month.

“The Saturday after Thanksgiving is usually a bigger day for us even than Black Friday,” said Renee Browder, owner of Unique Expressions on Whiskey Road.

Many downtown shoppers said they were out looking for Christmas gifts Saturday. Some said they were already frequent customers in downtown businesses.

“We started Small Business Saturday even stronger than Black Friday. People are supporting small businesses, and we are thrilled,” said Re-Fresh owner Toni Jerome.

American Express founded Small Business Saturday in 2010 to get more exposure for small businesses on what has historically been one of the busiest shopping weekends of the year. The National Federation of Independent Businesses this year conducted its first Small Business Saturday Insights Survey and found that 46 percent of independently owned businesses across the country planned to take part in the movement with sales, media promotions, and use of American Express' event-branded marketing resources for participating merchants.

“In just three years, Small Business Saturday went from an idea to help small business find more customers, to a permanent fixture on the holiday shopping calendar. According to the research, we are seeing the small business community take ownership of the day and make it their own,” said American Express OPEN President Susan Sobbott in a press release.

“We are a small business. Small businesses are the backbone of America, and in order for us to thrive, we need events like this one to bring people in to shop,” said Tea Garden Gifts owner Cathy Bland.

Suzanne Stone is a general assignment reporter at the Aiken Standard. She is a graduate of the Savannah College of Art & Design and studied communications at Augusta State University. She is a native of Augusta, Ga. Contact Suzanne Stone at, or follow on Twitter at #SuzanneRStone and on Facebook at Suzanne Stone is