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Small Businesses Look To Saturday Holiday Shopping For Salvation

East Main Street in Belleville. Small businesses in this corridor, and across the St. Louis region, depend on strong holiday shopping revenue to stay in business.
Paul Sableman | Flickr
East Main Street in Belleville. Small businesses in this corridor, and across the St. Louis region, depend on strong holiday shopping revenue.

The holiday shopping season is here, and like most things this year, the coronavirus pandemic is complicating it.

Major shopping holidays after Thanksgiving are historically crucial for all businesses, but locally owned stores especially depend on them.

“This is what pulls them through,” said Alicia Slocomb, manager of Belleville’s Main Street Committee, which helps drive economic growth downtown. “This time period really does push people to the point of, ‘OK, we’re going to make it another year.’”

The Saturday after Thanksgiving has been designated Small Business Saturday, a complementary event to Black Friday and Cyber Monday. It encourages people to support locally owned shops and has become one of the busiest days for Belleville retailers, Slocomb said. It helps that the idea of supporting locally owned businesses has entered the national consciousness, she said.

“People recognize that’s a day they’re supposed to go out and support,” Slocomb said.

Solid revenue over the next six weeks is even more crucial for smaller shops, which have been strained by the prolonged pandemic.

“Between the PPP loan and the Madison County grant, we would have been out of business already, me personally,” said Shane Giger, owner of the Sandwich Shop restaurant in Collinsville, which he bought 14 months ago. “When you’re only in business a year, you don’t have all that money in reserves.”

The holidays arrive this year at a time when Illinois and St. Louis-areagovernments are imposing new restrictions to curb rapidly rising coronavirus cases across the region.

Metro East chambers of commerce and other organizations still encourage people to turn out and support locally owned businesses, but with an eye toward safety around the coronavirus.

“In years past we loved to see packed stores,” Slocomb said. “Because of COVID, we’d rather have mildly filled stores over the course of a longer period of time.”

The Small Business Development Center at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville developed a shopping “passport.” Once shoppers purchase from each of the 16 featured shops in Madison or St. Clair counties during the week of Thanksgiving, they’ll enter a raffle of items donated by those same businesses, said Jo Ann Di Maggio May, who directs the center.

“We’re not going to limit people,” she said. “If they don’t want to go into a store or restaurant, they can do curbside, or they could shop online and show proof of that.”

Di Maggio May called the opportunity a win-win for shoppers and local businesses.

“This is the season that could really make or break things for them,” she said. “If we can do our part to support them and keep them around, we all benefit.”

Many of the featured shops include restaurants in St. Clair and Madison counties, which have acutely suffered under capacity limitations because of the coronavirus.

“It’s a struggle when you’re doing 30 to 40% of your revenue that you had before just trying to keep things open,” Giger said.

His restaurant is part of the Madison County passport. Giger said he was happy to be a part of something that could encourage people to buy from his restaurant and others in his community.

“We’re just trying to stick together and keep this small business part alive,” he said. “You stop to look around, and so many places are closing, and it’s just sad.”

Nearly $75 of every $100 spent at a small business tends to remain in the community where it was spent, Di Maggio May said. She also expects the promotion to encourage people to support the local businesses they enjoy beyond what’s listed on either county’s passport.

Regardless of whether people visit all the featured businesses in the specific passports, Slocomb recommends knocking off holiday shopping as early as possible.

“We don’t know what is coming down the pike for us,” she said. “We don’t know with the resurgence of the COVID cases if at some point, will things be shut down?”

Eric Schmid covers the Metro East for St. Louis Public Radio as part of the journalism grant program Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project. Follow Eric on Twitter: @EricDSchmid

Eric Schmid covers business and economic development for St. Louis Public Radio.