Local business owners hope Black Friday shoppers -- and holiday customers in general -- will heed the message they're seeing on television, on Facebook and in emails.
Saturday, the day after the traditional biggest shopping day of the year, is being dubbed "Small Business Saturday" in a campaign sponsored by American Express. The credit card giant encourages people to pick their favorite small business and buy something there.
Word is spreading locally.
Jennifer Deschene, owner of Holistic Journey at 106 E. Main St., is repeating the message on a sidewalk sign: "Shop Main Street for Small Business Saturday."
"I think it's great," she said of the national message. "Especially if it helps."
Deschene moved her then-home-based business to the downtown storefront in March. She said business has been "up and down," with the down times being when potential customers are in transition -- heading back to school at the end of the summer or focusing their time, effort and money on nongift-related holidays.
But she has noticed some early Christmas shoppers already, and not just those buying gifts. Last week, a woman came in to find something scented and some music to calm family nerves around the Thanksgiving table.
She's optimistic for a good turnout Friday. She hopes to stand out from big-box retailers by offering personalized service and unique products. She specializes in non-traditional gifts. She also offers aura photography and classes, such as yoga, Zumba Fitness, and belly dancing.
"We're into creating positive energy," she said.
Charleen Hickey and her husband, Charles, opened CeLeen Gallery & Gifts at 325 E. Main St. in September. She has spread the Small Business Saturday message to the customers on her email list.
"That's a good push," she said of the commercials and Facebook page. "I hope people listen."
She also said she hopes to stand out from chain retailers by offering products customers can't find elsewhere. On display are purses made from license plates, boutique finds from California, handmade jewelry and scarves, artwork by local artists and pottery, including some made by local crafters. At the same time, she tries to stay away from items that she knows other small businesses downtown are carrying, so as not to take away from them.
City leaders in the last few years engaged in a door-to-door campaign to encourage consumers to buy in Belleville for the holidays. They would pass out fliers touting the benefit to the city's residents and businesses of the sales tax income local spending generates. They skipped that door-to-door effort this year and instead printed something in the newsletter the city mails to residents.
Sales tax income in Belleville has risen steadily since 2007, according to information from the Illinois Department of Revenue. The only exception was the previous fiscal year, when it dropped 0.5 percent. Jamie Maitret, Belleville's director of finance, said that's likely mostly attributable to the fact that the federal Cash for Clunkers program the year before had generated a burst of tax income from car sales.
Tony and Theresa Zillen came to downtown Belleville from Fairview Heights on Wednesday to look at the gingerbread houses in the windows and do a little gift shopping.
Tony Zillen thinks it's a treat to go into a locally owned business. He prefers to only shop at big-box stores if they have something specific he absolutely needs.
Theresa Zillen said she likes locally owned places for their unique, higher-quality offerings.
"It's a higher price, but worth it, I think," she said.
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