Shop local, shop small this Saturday

Staff photo by Christina Cleveland Plum Pudding store associate Lydia Summer checks out a customer at the downtown gourmet kitchen store.

Decorative scarves, printed handbags, racks of clothing and displays of Christmas gifts all await prospective customers inside of Fox & Lady in downtown Aiken.

The boutique, located on Laurens Street in downtown Aiken, is one of dozens of local businesses encouraging shoppers to step inside of their unique storefronts for Small Business Saturday.

The day encourages people to remember to shop small during one of the busiest weekends for retailers. Fox & Lady’s owners got a taste of what the day means when it opened during the same weekend last year.

“It was awesome,” said store manager Franny Radford. “It was just so incredibly encouraging to see the support from everybody. We had a great day and everybody was in great spirits (and) lots of fun; we’re just excited to have another year going with us.”

Since last year, Radford said the support has continued.

“We are truly blessed and thankful for the support that we have received from everyone,” she said. “We just couldn’t to be more thankful for people continuing to shop local for us.”

The boutique offers clothing and accessories from brands like Brighton, Martina, Simply Southern and Vera Bradley; Radford said it prides itself on providing customers great service.

“We want it to be an experience when you come into our store. We want you to find something special for that special day or just a really cute outfit,” she said. “What really means a lot for shopping local is that you’re giving back to that local family, that local community and making it grow so I really encourage people to shop local and give back and even eat local.”

According to its website, Small Business Saturday started on Nov. 27, 2010 to encourage people across the country to shop small for the day. The initiative became official the following year, and in 2012, American Express became a partner, the website states.

Last year, an estimated $14.3 billion was spent at small, independent businesses on the day, according to the Small Business Saturday consumer insights survey.

This year, a local effect created the hashtag “#Aiken4Aiken” so shoppers can stay connected through social media and share posts and photos of their shop-small experiences.

In Aiken, Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce President/CEO David Jameson said local businesses “create jobs, boost the economy and preserve our communities.”

“Small businesses are what make our community unique. They are the heartbeat of America and the foundation upon which this country was built,” Jameson said.

This is especially true for businesses in and around downtown.

Christian Carlisle, buyer and manager of Plum Pudding in Aiken, said that the area is one that can’t be experienced anywhere else.

“So much shopping is done online now, but the downtown is such a vibrant part to the city that it’s important that we support it, and it takes local support as well as the tourism all year round – not just the Small Business Saturday,” Carlisle said. “It’s what people fall in love with ... it’s unlike anything anywhere or any computer. It’s an experience.”

To continue providing the experience, as well as stay in business, small business people are aiming to be one step ahead of larger retailers.

“I can’t speak for everybody downtown, but me personally, as the buyer for 15 years, I strive to stay ahead of what the big boxes do,” Carlisle said, “You have to constantly evolve and find new things and exciting things, local things, things with a little more life and heart behind them than just what you’ve maybe seen mass produced in China and put on the shelf.”

And similar to Radford, Carlisle believes the customer service at a local business is paramount.

“We’re not just here to sell stuff and send them back out the door,” he said.

The camaraderie is obvious with customers like Susan Kleinbub, who left with more than the holiday table settings she purchased at the store Wednesday. She checked out with a laugh and conversation.

Kleinbub grew up with the store’s owner and is an Aiken native. She finds comfort in knowing the people that she’s shopping with personally, but also believes in supporting her hometown.

“I want to promote our city and our downtown,” Kleinbub said. “I’m all about bringing business to downtown so our small merchants can thrive.”

Between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Jameson said Small Business Saturday is a way to keep that momentum going and wants others to get behind it.

“Let’s rally behind small business in Aiken and shop small on Nov. 28,” he said. “With all that has happened in the local economy over the past months, small business needs us more than ever during this year’s holiday season.”

Christina Cleveland is a general assignment reporter at the Aiken Standard. Follow her on Twitter @ChristinaNCleve.