Business owners adapt to unusual Small Business Saturday

NILES — The Saturday after Thanksgiving is traditionally Small Business Saturday, following Black Friday, famous for its sales at big retail and department stores. In Niles, as with many holiday traditions, the Saturday looked a little different this year, leaving few shoppers on the streets and forcing business owners to adapt to a new normal.

Surrounded by all sorts of signature, creative flavors of jams, Aiye Akihigbe, owner of Sticky Spoons Jams, was standing under a tent outside of Iron Shoe Distillery on Saturday afternoon in a mask, hat and coat. She had been there since 10 a.m., with the plan to stay until 1 p.m.

Akihigbe saw enough people on Saturday that she posted on social media that she was going to extend her time in the wind by an extra hour.

“On a normal year, we would be indoors,” Akihigbe said. “We would have been at two craft shows.”

The lack of holiday markets and craft shows was just one marked difference in this year’s Small Business Saturday in downtown Niles. While the streets did not show extra traffic for a Saturday, some shoppers still made their way into the antique shops and businesses around the area.

The Grand LV’s Small Business Saturday Market was originally planned for its traditional Saturday after Thanksgiving on Nov. 28, with Akihigbe signed up to participate. Due to gathering orders under the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services that extend through Dec. 9, the event had to be postponed.

“Once everything started getting shut down, I reached out to Iron Shoe Distillery,” Akihigbe said. “[Owner Laura Tuthill] was like ‘of course. It’s small business Saturday. We have to help each other.’ So, here we are.”

Akihigibe said she would usually have done about 16 craft shows by this time on a normal year, but had only participated in four.

“The good thing about having the kind of customers we have, is that they will follow us anywhere we go,” she said. “People have really come out today to support, and we really, really appreciate it.”

A couple streets down at The Upcycled Artisan, Bill and Elizabeth Keller, designers and owners, were hosting the shop’s grand opening event on Small Business Saturday.

Both Bill and Elizabeth said they spent many late nights getting the shop ready. As they opened on Saturday, they were both pleased with how it looked.

They had an offering of beverages and snacks for those looking to keep their energy up while looking through their wares.

“We are up to 12 artisans now,” said Elizabeth. The shop featured local artisans and goods, in addition to Elizabeth’s handmade, upcycled purses and Bill’s woodworking products, including trays and charcuterie boards.

The shop’s windows were decorated with a Christmas village and a vintage aluminum tree, inviting passers-by to come explore.

Later in the day, Santa Claus made an appearance on a Niles Fire Engine through town. He did not man his usual post, but instead, wanted to wave and make a quick, socially distanced appearance.

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