Aiken Mayor Rick Osbon did his part of support downtown businesses on Shop Small Saturday.

Osbon is one of hundreds of people who “shopped small” for Christmas gifts at stores owned by local merchants up and down Laurens Street.

“This is about the sixth business that I've been in to help the Aiken economy,” said Osbon, sporting a “Shop Small” sticker on his sports jacket and holding a handful of shopping bags. “It's such an important day. Certainly, we're so proud of our small businesses in our downtown.”

Osbon said he has seen statistics showing that more than 90% of the businesses that participate in Small Business Saturday rely on the day after Black Friday to “drive up their sales” for the holidays.

“It really is exciting to see so many people out today and yesterday, also, and over the weekend,” Osbon said. “It also speaks to the strength of the retail that we have in our downtown. It just an exciting time in Aiken.”

Van Smith, the owner of Lionel Smith Ltd. men's clothing store, said Small Business Saturday gets people “stirred up” after Black Friday, “which was a fantastic day, also.”

“We see a lot of old clients because they're home for the holidays to visit family, and we also see new clients who are discovering Aiken,” Smith said. “Overall, it's a good thing for communities to get around small businesses and support them.”

Smith said Small Business Saturday is just the start of special events planned for the Christmas season.

Lionel Smith Ltd. will hold its annual Ladies Night on Tuesday and will participate in holiday events the Aiken Downtown Development Association has planned throughout December, including the Downtown Wine Walk from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday and the Night of 1,000 Lights from 6 to 8 p.m. Dec 12.

“We have a lot of employees, but we still get outnumbered sometimes,” Smith said. “We'll try our best to have smiles on our faces.”

Pamela Warnken from Starkville, Mississippi, visited Aiken for the third time to see her friend Leslie Hull-Ryde. Shopping on Laurens Street on Small Business Saturday was on of their list of activities for the long Thanksgiving weekend.

“When I've been here before, we really enjoyed shopping,” Warnken said. “We've definitely dropped some bucks on this street, and we plan to today. It's so festive and so vibrant, and the businesses really jump into it with all fours and make it such a pleasant experience.”

Warnken said she was shopping for some Christmas gifts, some things for herself and – sweets.

“Definitely sweets. We have to have some food,” she said.

Hull-Ryde said she loves how welcoming the downtown merchants are, their spirit and the “hospitality as you walk by.”

“Everyone is so merry and is getting into the spirit of the season,” she said. “I'm not originally from Aiken, but I'm glad to call it my home now. Things like Small Business Saturday are just magical and make this town the greatest small town in the South.”

Larry Wood covers education for the Aiken Standard.