Dowagiac sees mixed results on Small Business Saturday

Published 7:16 am Monday, December 2, 2013

Like many other cities in the United States, Dowagiac celebrated Shop Small Saturday this weekend to kick off the holiday shopping season and promote small industry. Leader Photo/TED YOAKUM

Like many other cities in the United States, Dowagiac celebrated Shop Small Saturday this weekend to kick off the holiday shopping season and promote small industry. Leader Photo/TED YOAKUM

The day after millions of Americans swarmed the country’s big box retailers in pursuit of sharply discounted electronics and toys, a much different kind of business was put in the spotlight.

The fourth annual Small Business Saturday took place this weekend, a national celebration of the country’s family-owned stores. Devised by American Express in 2010, thousands of local mom-and-pop shops across the U.S. offered discounts and other door-buster deals to draw shoppers.

In Dowagiac, a city populated with small businesses, such a day seemed like a natural fit for the community’s downtown. Businesses such as Caruso’s and Imperial Furniture, which have been owned by their founding families for more than five decades, are institutions that both residents and frequent visitors often rely on for their shopping needs, especially during the holiday season.

For the second year, the Greater Dowagiac Chamber of Commerce has elevated Small Business Saturday in the city as part of its Old-Fashioned Christmas Celebration as the second of three local events celebrating the holiday season. This year, though, the chamber and a few local businesses offered special coupons for the area’s shoppers, giving special discounts at participating retailers.

For a number of these stores, the coupons were a huge draw, bringing more customers than the businesses would normally expect on a Saturday.

“Business has been very steady today,” said Sue Kazlauskas, owner of The Marshall Shoppe. “We opened up the store today at 9:30 a.m., and we had customers already coming through the doors.”

The Marshall Shoppe, a women’s apparel store located downtown, offered coupons for a 25 percent discount off a single purchase. Kazlauskas, who bought the business from her mother in 1991, participated in the promotion with the chamber in part to see what kind of influence the organization had with potential customers.

“I really wanted to know how many people respond to the chamber’s emails,” she said. “So far I’ve seen a very good response today, judging by the amount of coupons that customers have given us.”

Carol Springsteen, the owner of another long-standing Dowagaic business, Imperial Furniture, said that the cross-promotion with the chamber helped boost their sales throughout the day as well.

“It’s been a busy day,” Springsteen added. “A lot of people have had the coupons on them when they came in, though we’ve also been offering the discounts to everyone, regardless of whether they had the physical one on them or not.”

The furniture store, located a few miles outside of downtown, was offering a 25 percent discount off of any of its Christmas decorations.

Springsteen also said that she believed the sunny weather played a part in the increased traffic her store seen on Saturday.

“We’ve seen a good mix of customers today,” she said. “We’ve had quite a few people come in, as well some of our old-timers. Some people have been buying gifts, some are buying to decorate, and some are just out treating themselves.”

Not all businesses received a massive boost in business as a result of the discounted prices, though. Patty Booth, owner of downtown’s Booth’s County Florist shop, said that only one customer had used her business’s coupon, which offered a 25 percent discount off a single purchase.

However, the increased awareness of the event still gave her storefront a boost of attention, she said. Booth said business was quite steady on Saturday, and usually dies off after noon most weekends.

“There’s been a nice flow of traffic,” Booth said. “There’s been a lot of people just looking our selection, but that’s fine.”

The next block over, at the Tipsy Gypsy, business wasn’t quite so booming, despite the fact the store was offering 20 percent off any item.

“Business has been kind of slower today than usual, which I’m thinking is because Black Friday was yesterday” said Melissa Borgais, a part-time worker with the shop.

The clothing store, which specializes in “blingy” western styled apparel, was offering discounts to buyers regardless of whether or not they actually had a physical copy of the coupon with them. Despite that, business was rather sluggish that morning, especially compared to the traffic seen last week during the city’s Open House Weekend, Borgais said.

While the actual sales seen at each location varied, owners and workers with the local businesses sung the praises of locally owned stores. The unique selection and close-knit relationships with the community are among the many advantages they said they had over their larger competitors.

“I’ve worked here for only a few months,” Borgais said. “I used to shop here a lot, so the owner, Laurie [Kizler], offered me a job. She gets to know everyone who comes in. It’s that just your usual shopper-owner relationship.”