‘Shop Small’ means big bucks for locally owned businesses on the Coast

Vanessa Mueller said shopping at a small business is one of the best things someone can do for their community.

“If you want your money to stay in and be used in the local community, then shop at a locally owned business,” said Mueller, who owns Marina Cottage Soap Co. in Ocean Springs. “The money you spend shopping online at places like Amazon is not coming back to the community and you can’t complain about the economy if you’re not doing your part to contribute locally.”

Mueller is one of many small business owners on the Mississippi Gulf Cast who will be participating in Small Business Saturday (#shoplocal), an initiative started by credit card giant American Express to urge people to spend money with locally owned businesses on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and more importantly, the Saturday after Black Friday, one of the largest shopping days of the year for major retailers.

Local shopping on the rise

Small Business Saturday will have its eighth incarnation on Saturday. According to a news release from American Express, the initiative saw a 13 percent increase in consumers from 2015 to 2016, which was about 112 million shoppers.

“Having a huge company behind this is a great,” said Martha Whitney Butler, who owns the French Potager in Bay St. Louis. “It doesn’t seem like it would fit American Express’ business model, but they really do promote it for us small business owners.”

Forbes estimates that Small Business Saturday generated $15.4 billion in revenue for local shop and restaurant owner nationwide in 2016. But while local businesses are starting to thrive, national retailers are on the decline. According to Bloomberg, retail chains planned to close approximately 6,800 stores in 2017.

Toy retailer Toys R Us has filed bankruptcy protection and closed its store at Gulfport Premium Outlets. And Target has announced it will be closing its store in Slidell in February.

But Mueller said the competition for locally-owned businesses with retail chains and online shopping houses is fierce.

“I have to have big blowout sales to compete with the big box store because I can’t compete any other way,” Mueller said. “Black Friday for us is huge, but we do about half that business on Small Business Saturday and that’s very surprising — everyone says they want to ‘shop local’ but the first thing they do is hit all of the big box stores and without that influx of shoppers, we’re not going to exist.”

A sense of community

For Butler, she said she enjoys not only the boost in sales from the Shop Local promotion, but the boost in esteem it gives the community.

“My favorite thing about Small Business Saturday is seeing all of the people come to shop in downtown Bay St. Louis,” Butler said. “It seems like they’ve tired of the big chain stores by that point and they’re ready to get together and shop with their friends and visit some of the businesses that are owned by the people they know in the community.”

Who’s in on Small Business Saturday?

There are many shops and restaurants on the Coast participating in the 2017 Shop Small event. To find store and eateries near you, go to the Shop Small website and use the map to find stores in your neighborhood and across South Mississippi.