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Local Shops Ease Into Holiday

Mabel Balduf, left, and footwear manager Darren Sondrini, right, assist Wilhelmina Baldruf, 2 1/2, center, select a pair of rainboots at Hubert's Family Outfitters in Lebanon, N.H., on November 30, 2013. The Saturday after thanksgiving has become known as 'Small Business Saturday,' when consumers are encouraged to support small, locally-owned businesses.
(Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage)

Mabel Balduf, left, and footwear manager Darren Sondrini, right, assist Wilhelmina Baldruf, 2 1/2, center, select a pair of rainboots at Hubert's Family Outfitters in Lebanon, N.H., on November 30, 2013. The Saturday after thanksgiving has become known as 'Small Business Saturday,' when consumers are encouraged to support small, locally-owned businesses. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage) Purchase photo reprints »

Lebanon — Big box stores opened on Thanksgiving because they claim their customers demanded it, but small business owners have not been as eager to join the holiday shopping frenzy.

While some small retailers offered sales throughout the weekend, many kept their prices the same and appealed to regular customers to fill their stores. And most let employees enjoy their Thanksgiving at home.

“We have a lot more respect for our employees,” said Liza Bernard, co-owner of The Norwich Bookstore. “Our customers are our friends and neighbors and they come in and say, ‘Did you have a nice time off?’ instead of asking, ‘Why weren’t you open?’ Our customers are so appreciative that as a local store we are taking care of ourselves and employees.”

Indeed, locally owned businesses largely have avoided drastic expansions of their hours and working on holidays in order to attract holiday shoppers. The Norwich Bookstore was among the stores that celebrated “Small Business Saturday,” a day intended to encourage shoppers to visit small local businesses. Small Business Saturday was a marketing tool launched in 2010 by American Express.

Small businesses can have a difficult time competing with bigger stores on this weekend because box stores have a plethora of advertising money, while small businesses don’t have the same resources, said Jean Card, spokeswoman for National Federation of Independent Business. Small Business Saturday is meant to help level the competition.

Bernard said Small Business Saturday isn’t so much about the sales as it is about reminding people that their local businesses are valuable.

On Saturday, the bookstore also joined a movement that is spreading through the American Booksellers Association to invite local authors to volunteer or work at their local bookstore for a few hours. Authors Meg Lukens Noonan, of Hanover, and Sarah Stewart Taylor, of Hartland, were both in The Norwich Bookstore on Saturday working as booksellers.

Employees enjoy the weekend as well, Bernard said.

“We got to meet our customers’ sisters-in-laws and fathers and brothers. These are people that we’ve helped our customers choose books for over the years,” Bernard said. “It’s an extension of how a local store can be personable.”

Some small businesses around the Upper Valley didn’t change anything this weekend.

Revolution, a clothing store in White River Junction that offers items by independent designers, was closed on Thanksgiving Day and opened regular hours — 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. — on Friday and Saturday. The store didn’t offer any big sales, but instead began to increase its inventory to include gift items and party dresses.

The only thing Revolution and such stores as Kohl’s have in common is that they both sell clothing and they likely have common customers, Revolution owner Kim Souza said. Souza said she’s not trying to compete with the big retailers, but she constantly works to remind the community of the importance of her establishment.

“What does concern me is when people lose sight of the importance of having small businesses in their downtown and they forget about it, and they find it easier to just do the one-stop shopping,” Souza said. “It’s reminding people, ‘Hey don’t forget that we’re here, and you really liked it the last time you came here.’ ”

Meanwhile in Woodstock, many downtown stores stuck with business as usual, including the Vermont Flannel Co. The store rarely lowers its prices because the flannel is all made by hand, employee Lauren Delbello said. Unlike the big box stores, Vermont Flannel Co., doesn’t rely on the weekend after Thanksgiving to kick off its big shopping quarter. Instead, the store sees its busiest season start in the fall and run through the winter.

During the fall and winter, the store expands its hours for several months instead of just one weekend. Like many stores in Woodstock, Vermont Flannel Co., relies on local customers and tourists who stop in during foliage and ski seasons.

And the small stores get a helping hand from their customers, many of whom make a conscious effort to shop locally.

Amy Richardson, of Hartland, was browsing at Revolution on Saturday and said she’s been Black Friday shopping before, but she doesn’t prefer it. She’d rather buy locally, and she supports such local businesses as Revolution and Upper Valley Food Coop in White River Junction.

She said she only makes it to Revolution about once a month, and when she does, she doesn’t walk out with a big bag of merchandise. But as a farmer by trade, she said she likes the experience and she likes Souza’s goal of promoting the downtown community.

“It’s not just about Small Business Saturday, it’s about making the local small business shops part of your regular stops,” Richardson said.

Other businesses like Hubert’s, a family clothing store chain with a store in Lebanon, chose to open early on Friday and offer sales throughout the weekend. For Hubert’s, the sales paid off. The Lebanon location had 11 people waiting in line at 7 a.m. on Friday and about 3,200 customers walked through the door that day.

The business enticed customers with 15 percent off coupons for the entire store from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. and additional discounts throughout the day on Friday. When customers checked out, additional coupons were stuffed in their bags — two 20 percent off coupons for the customer and a friend that could be used between Saturday and Monday.

The fourth quarter is extremely important for Hubert’s, said store manager John Tostenson, but Black Friday does not make or break the store, although they do want to do well.

But will Hubert’s start opening on Thanksgiving? Tostenson doesn’t think so.

“I would have some serious trepidation being open on Thanksgiving,” Tostenson said. “It is a time for us to be with our families. I don’t see a day that that will happen. I don’t look forward to it if it comes to that.”

Sarah Brubeck can be reached at sbrubeck@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.