Moving from chain-dominated malls to mom-and-pop Main Streets, shoppers around the Bay Area on Saturday took a break from big-box stores to think small.
With the turkey put away and Black Friday's madness out of our system, it was time for the third-annual Small Business Saturday, a holiday paean to the 23 million shops, restaurants and services that make up 54 percent of all U.S. sales and provide more than half of all the jobs in America. And the good vibes were mutual, with shop owners reaching out with discounts and specials while shoppers opened up their wallets to support the retail lifeblood of their communities.
"Shopping local means more of the money we spend stays here in the community,'' said Kymberli Brady, whose 5-month-old Discover San Jose gift store downtown was one of millions of stores across the United States taking part in Saturday's event. "Without small businesses, we wouldn't have much of an economy.''
Cities, chambers of commerce, cafe owners and shopkeepers all got into the act. In San Jose, the City Council threw its weight behind the holiday shopping event, hoping its official imprimatur would prompt residents to support local businesses by keeping cash registers ringing all day. In San Francisco, former Mayor Willie Brown got things going in the city by shopping at Book Passage at the Ferry Building first thing Saturday morning. And in towns from Pleasanton to Burlingame to Gilroy, small-business owners laid out the trademark blue-and-white welcome mats that have been a fixture of the event ever since American Express first dreamed up the idea in 2010. Since then, the event has taken on a life of its own as towns and cities and business groups have hopped on board.
At Willow Glen's House of Nutrition, shopper Eva Curtiss of Castro Valley had come by to support her friend and the store's owner Monika Keller, who's been at the same location for 33 years and features photos of her loyal clientele on the wall behind her.
"My customers,'' Keller said, "aren't just customers; many have become friends and they trust me and the advice I give them on health and nutrition products. That keeps them coming back year after year.''
And, Curtiss said, pointing to the photos on the wall, "you sure don't see that at the stores in the mall.''
San Jose used the event to piggyback on another shop-local initiative called "Shop San Jose'' which works to help grow small businesses. Mayor Chuck Reed called Saturday's event "a great opportunity for our people to explore the many great shops, restaurants and small businesses located here in our own community."
Cara Douglas with the city's Office of Economic Development said that by supporting local retailers, "the money people spend here helps stimulate the local economy. Friday is mostly about the chain stores, but on Saturday we want shoppers to readjust their thinking a bit and support the people who live and work in this community and depend on you.''
In Oakland, dozens of merchants offered specials and hosted other events as part of "Plaid Friday," an annual event that aims to encourage shoppers to visit local and independent businesses as an alternative to Black Friday. Among those who stopped by A Step Forward, a shoe and accessory store on Piedmont Avenue, was Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, who purchased a wallet and a pair of boots.
"It feels like we have turned a corner," owner Ulla Lundgren said of Friday's event. "The energy is more positive. There's more consumer confidence."
Contact Patrick May at 408-920-5689 or follow him at Twitter.com/patmaymerc