Small Business Saturday has Erie merchants gearing up for shoppers –

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Black Friday isn’t quite what it used to be. The tradition was disrupted by COVID-19 and, even before that, by public and corporate indecision about whether holiday shopping could wait until the pumpkin pie was served.

Today, most big retailers are electing to remain closed on Thanksgiving day and to stretch out Black Friday with a week or more of so-called doorbuster deals.

Meanwhile, Small Business Saturday, created by American Express, continues to gather steam and attention.

The observance began with a modest start in 2010 when consumers spent an estimated $5.5 billion. By 2021, that total had grown to 23.3 billion.

Kyle Churman, who along with his wife, Lauren Shoemaker, has owned Werner Books in the Liberty Plaza since March, said he’s looking forward to this year’s retail observance, which is sandwiched between Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Churman hopes to claim a small slice of both the revenue and goodwill generated by this day of shopping at the nation’s independent retailers.

But he’s convinced it’s up to him to earn that business.

That’s why he’s worked hard to learn the preferences of his customers, the type of books they read, the gifts they prefer to give.

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It’s led him, for instance, to focus on the value of bundling together prewrapped books, coffee mugs and coffee or tea to provide an exchange-ready gift for a modest price.

In addition to discounts and a raffle basket, Churman and Shoemaker expect to have a good supply of these $15 gifts wrapped and ready when customers walk through the door Saturday.

“People seem to really like it,” he said.

But for Churman, earning his customer’s business is about more than selling what they want to buy.

It means collecting books for local schools and supporting other small business owners by featuring their products.

“For us, Lauren and I, you can’t expect people to walk in the door just because you are a local bookstore or a local gallery. In order to be a true community space you have to actively work to be part of that community,” Churman said.

“We are all in this together,” he continued. “Could I get wholesale coffee cheaper? Maybe, but that’s not what it’s about. I want that money to go into the pocket of my neighbor and friend.”

Better than a typical Saturday

For Erie retailer Sarah Kim, Small Business Saturday is a big deal.

“It’s very important. This is not only the kickoff, but we anticipate doing three times the business we do on a normal Saturday,” said Kim, who is the owner of three retail stores, including Nest by Lollie in the Village West Shopping Plaza and Lollie & Co. and Peter James by Lollie, both in the Shops at the Colony.

Kim said supporting local causes is a hallmark of a good small business. But that’s only part of her mission.

“Our vision is to bring really nice brands at an appropriate price point,” she said. “For us, it’s really important to earn our customers’ trust through honesty in sales. I think we have done that.”

Saturday is an opportunity to highlight what her stores have to offer, Kim said.

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That means fully stocked shelves, gifts for regular customers and special benefits to customers who download Lollie’s app on their phones.

“It’s a great showcase for small business,” she said. “This is my chance to put my best foot forward.”

Organized efforts

While scores of individual small businesses are gearing up for their day in the spotlight, a handful of organized efforts are underway to draw attention to small businesses and entrepreneurs in Erie.

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Dozens of crafters and entrepreneurs selling food and gifts will be set up Saturday inside the Boston Store in an event sponsored by the Erie Downtown Partnership.

Also on Saturday, the Sisters of St. Joseph Neighborhood Network will serve as what it calls a Neighborhood Champion for 30 participating small businesses in the Federal Hill, Little Italy and Parade Street neighborhoods.

Customers who visit at least four retailers in those neighborhoods on Saturday will be eligible to win gift certificates and merchandise worth more than $500 from participating businesses.

Susannah Faulkner, director of development for the Sisters of St. Joseph Neighborhood Network, said she’s hoping the annual observance will help draw attention to small businesses.

“We would love to see more folks out shopping small, whether it’s this Saturday or some other time,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to invest in their local community.”

Mabel Howard, owner of Cafe 7-10, which has locations at Seven W. 10th St. and in the Blasco Library, said she’s looking forward to some bigger crowds on Saturday.

“I believe any opportunity is a good day, especially around the holidays,” she said. “People are wanting to spend more, to give more and to support more. This is a good time to grow your business.”

Howard said she feels good about what her business offers in return.

“We are giving them something they would not get elsewhere,” she said. “We are providing them with baked goods that they might not have the time or the skillset to create at home.”

Howard, who opened her business a little over three years ago, said she doesn’t take any customers for granted, not on Small Business Saturday or at any other time.

“Every customer matters every time,” she said. “Those things are what keep our doors open.”

Spreading the love, and the cash

Churman said he and his wife had discussed hosting activities that might encourage patrons to extend their stay for a while on Saturday.

Ultimately, they decided against it.

“I really hope that people don’t linger in the sense that I want people to go to a bunch of small businesses,” Churman said. “I want them to go downtown, and I want them to go to the Colony, and I want them to go to Village West.

“That is kind of the point,” he continued. “I really am hoping that people are going to be out and about all day going to the small businesses they love. I really hope we can all share in the success a little.”

Contact Jim Martin at