Shari Ralish has come to regard the Saturday after Thanksgiving as a significant date on her calendar.
About four years ago, Ralish opened Peaceful Parlour, a shop that sells teas and housewares at 212 S. Third St. in Geneva. That’s about as long as the effort called Small Business Saturday has existed. Ralish said she has learned to embrace that concept as an opportunity to showcase how her place is different than the national chain stores that typically draw huge crowds on the Friday after Thanksgiving, a day known as Black Friday.
Ralish said she can offer tea samples. She said she will make the effort to track down whatever a customer might want. And, she said, customers often might be offered a “healing hug.”
“It’s a good time to demonstrate your special customer service, how you can go that extra mile,” Ralish said.
Small Business Saturday is approaching, coming two days after Thanksgiving. The event was founded by American Express in 2010, and it has grown in prominence each year.
If the Christmas shopping season is vital for big-box stores, it’s just as important for small businesses. According to websites associated with Small Business Saturday, supporting the event helps such businesses that “keep our community unique,” and mentions that “one-of-a-kind businesses build the character of our communities.”
The Tri-Cities area has many such shops. In the Kaneland area, the dynamic is different, but chamber of commerce officials say the idea of shopping local is just as important.
And some places in the Kaneland area do increased business during the holiday – for instance, Ream’s Elburn Market at 128 N. Main St. in Elburn. Janelle Ream, who owns the store with her husband, Randy, said they’ll have “as many people working as humanly possible” to help keep the lines moving, as customers flock to the meat market to purchase food to serve at holiday gatherings, as well as items that can be given as gifts.
“People do come from everywhere,” she said.
A shopping tradition
Gene Olmstead, who owns Olmstead’s TV & Appliances at 221 W. Wilson St. in Batavia, said Small Business Saturday is a big deal, but he also does what the big guys do. He opens from 6 to 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving night – something he said is unfortunate but necessary. And Black Friday is a big deal for him, too.
He said national chains will have people lining up for the possibility of huge savings, but then there are very limited amounts available. He said he offers good deals, and he also can provide service that larger stores can’t.
“The Christmas season is a significant part of our business,” he said. “There’s no doubt about that.”
Cathy Villwock, who owns Kernel’s Gourmet Popcorn & More at 316 W. State St. in Geneva, said owners of small businesses are just more invested than those who are working at larger stores.
“I’m not saying big-box people don’t value the customers, but when you have this type of investment in your community, you take pride in it,” she said.
Ralish said it’s about customers who can “put their money where they feel good about something. … Instead of a big-box store, they want to get it from someone they can trust.”
Shopping local in the Kaneland area
The downtown shopping experience that exists in Geneva, St. Charles and Batavia doesn’t exist in the same way as in the western part of Kane County. Ream’s market is perhaps the most significant draw, but there are other ways to shop local.
Peg Bendowski, administrator for the Elburn Chamber of Commerce, said the village has much to offer. She said Elburn is “a small community where everyone is more like family to us.”
“We have our own Jewel, our own Walgreens, our own McDonalds,” she said. “We have Briana’s Pancake Cafe. We can feed you early in the morning, and we can feed you late at night. We have antique stores and a hobby shop. There’s a lot right on Route 47.”
“It’s the personal relationships here in town, both with the business owners and the customers,” Bendowski added. “Our Main Street has a lot to offer.”
Shari Baum, executive director of the Sugar Grove Chamber of Commerce, had a lot of the same thoughts, saying there are many restaurants and salons in the village, and gift certificates might make ideal Christmas gifts.
Lynne Schwartz, executive director of the Downtown St. Charles Partnership, said she’s hearing from people who say they are hearing of Small Business Saturday for the first time. She has noted that national marketing efforts seem to have increased, and her organization is encouraging St. Charles businesses to take advantage of it.
A key opportunity takes place throughout the weekend, as the partnership sponsors Holiday Homecoming, which includes Friday night’s Lighting of the Lights and Saturday night’s Electric Christmas Parade. Both events are expected to draw big crowds to downtown St. Charles.
“It’s a gift to the community, and it hopefully highlights the things that we offer downtown,” Schwartz said.
In Geneva, chamber of commerce spokeswoman Laura Rush said the support behind Small Business Saturday grows each year. She said that some might have the idea that shopping at local businesses might be expensive, but she said that isn’t the case.
“You have to give them a try,” Rush said. “When you do, you definitely become hooked.”
And Rush said the personal attention is part of that. For instance, she said when you go to Giesche Shoe Store at 21 N. Fourth St. in Geneva, “you’re talking to Greg Giesche.” Villwock also said that was something that can’t be offered by larger stores.
“When you go into these big-box stores, how many times do you actually see the owner?” Villwock asked.
To learn more about Small Business Saturday, visit www.americanexpress.com/us/small-business/Shop-Small/.