Far from the stampeding Black Friday hordes at the mall, 10-year-old Piper Anthony happily wandered the aisles at Tom's Toys, an independent store in Montrose, to choose a birthday present for a friend.
"I like everything, really," she said with a smile.
Over in the next aisle, her brother, 1-year-old Niko, heaved balls from a crate about as tall as he was, and watched them bounce across the floor.
Their father, Richard Anthony, said he feels a tinge of nostalgia looking at the toys on the shelves. Alongside the usual Lego and Playmobil sets were kaleidoscopes, ant farms, gyroscopes, Barrels of Monkeys, a classic Etch A Sketch and a Fuel Cell X7 - a kit to build a toy car that runs on water.
"Toys R Us has certain brands and that's all they sell," Anthony said. "This store sells everything under the sun, even some of the old-fashioned toys that I grew up with."
He also appreciated the free gift wrapping and the fact that everything in the store was 25 to 40 percent off on Black Friday.
As the American economy gains steam and consumer confidence improves, retailers are predicting more robust sales this holiday season. Already, Wal-Mart announced this was its best ever Black Friday event. And other big-box retailers' stocks prices were up.
But, there's also concern that mom and pops and main street shops are getting shut out from the holiday spending spree by the big-name retailers. That's prompted Shop Local campaigns and today's Small Business Saturday, launched by American Express in 2010.
Local merchants have banded together, too, seeking to offer consumers a very different Black Friday experience.
The roughly 200 stores in Montrose Shopping Park Association have a community Christmas Tree, 20 tons of snow trucked in for children to play in, and two white horses pulling a red carriage to transport holiday shoppers from store to store free of charge.
Ted Frankel, owner of Tom's Toys, said he expects sales to either match or slightly exceed last year's numbers.
While Wal-Mart, Target and Toys R Us may have cornered most of the toy market, Frankel said the big box stores cannot match his in customer service.
"If people need help picking out a gift, we can spend time with them," he said.
Like many mom and pop retailers, away from the malls, Frankel said he's remained competitive by carrying many specialty brands that big-box stores don't carry, and offers deeply discounted pricing. He hopes customers will keep coming.
"It's important that people recognize how much they actually enjoy what independent stores have to offer," Frankel said. "Otherwise, these places could be gone. There are so few of us left now."
Ken Grayson, owner of Grayson's Tune Town and president of the Montrose Shopping Park Association, extolled the virtues of local shopping because it creates local jobs and generates income to fund local services.
He said the community also benefits from the personalized service it gets from local store owners, who are their neighbors.
"In many businesses today, you get some employees that only care about getting their paycheck," Grayson said. "In Montrose, you have a lot of independent businesses where the store owners are present, and you can talk to them, and they care about the people they do business with, and it shows in the way you're treated as a customer.
Grayson said the store founded by his parents is about to celebrate its 60th anniversary selling guitars and amplifiers and offering music lessons. He was proud that in some families, he had three generations of customers.
Over at Un Deux Trois, a high-end tween clothing retailer on Tarzana Village Walk along Ventura Boulevard, the staff is on a first-name basis with some of their customers.
"A client of mine, whom I've known for five years, came in the other day and said, `This is why I come here, because you remember me, you know what my daughter likes, and you can always help us out,"' said the store's district manager, Melissa Mayon. "It's really what we stand behind - our customer service and our brand."
She said the independent store has been able to thrive by offering high quality, locally made products, and giving its clients a "stellar shopping experience" they might not get from a big-box store.