Local Business

Small Business Saturday: A Short History

Small Business Saturday embodies a special kind of irony in American business: a holiday promoting shopping at small local businesses, invented by one of the largest corporations in the country, American Express. Despite the contradiction, however, the positive impact the new holiday has had upon small businesses is undeniable. In 2012, an American Express-sponsored study estimated that $5.5 billion was spent at small businesses on that single day, and the reach of the event is growing every year.

Small Business Saturday, sometimes referred to as Shop Small Saturday, first hit the internet in early 2010. It began as a hashtag to promote shopping at small businesses on any given saturday, similar to #FollowFriday, which promoted following a business’ social media page. American Express picked up on the concept, and created a holiday that would act as counterpoint and follow-up to Black Friday. The stated intent was to lessen the negative impact on sales for small businesses brought about by the massive deals large businesses could afford to offer for the holidays.

The first official Small Business Saturday took place on November 27, 2010, and was preceded by a massive television and radio ad campaign – sponsored, of course, by American Express. Part of the campaign involved buying Facebook advertising inventory and donating it to the company’s small merchant account holders, allowing those businesses to promote their own products alongside the holiday. The campaign took off, and the Facebook page for Small Business Saturday garnered over one million likes the first year – rising to over three million since.

Over the next few years, Small Business Saturday gained a national following. In 2011, the holiday was actively endorsed by civic leaders and politicians across the nation, including President Obama. American Express began to offer free promotional materials such as tote bags and other swag to participating businesses. The company also offers free materials for community leaders who want to start or expand a Shop Small event in their town.

Celebrating Small Business, Bellingham Style:

Downtown Bellingham Logo Snow scene red text

Here in the City of Subdued Excitement, Black Friday may not be quite as intense as in other parts of the country, but it’s become a tradition nonetheless – meaning the new holiday has a place here, too. In Bellingham, Black Friday tends to center more around Bellis Fair, with many downtown businesses choosing to remain closed on that Friday. But Saturday seems to have become a different story: in keeping with Bellingham’s supportive environment for small business, the downtown area has fully embraced the idea of a local-oriented shopping holiday. The Downtown Bellingham Partnership has promoted Small Business Saturday for several years, and worked with local businesses to turn the day into an event that encompasses all of downtown. This year’s Shop Small Saturday in Bellingham will include festive decorations throughout the neighborhood, refreshments offered at several businesses, and wandering carolers and buskers.

In addition to the atmosphere, local businesses will also be offering special promotions and sales. Below are a few of the deals you can find if you head into town on Saturday:

How do you plan to spend Small Business Saturday? Do you run a local business and have a promotion you’d like to highlight? Are you a consumer with plans to navigate the downtown scene? Let’s hear from you in the comments!

Tobias Osterhaug

Tobias Osterhaug

Tobias is a full-time contributor to Bellingham Business News, covering local business events, tech news, and advice for job seekers in the Bellingham area. He graduated from Western Washington University with a double major in History and Chinese Language & Cultural Studies, and has previously worked as a coordinator in Western’s Writing Center.

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