For the past few years the nation's biggest shopping weekend found Terisa Glover sitting alone with her furry companion, Sparky, hoping for customers to come in.
But last weekend was a buzz of activity for the owner of the General Store in downtown Lakeland as more people went out to shop local on Small Business Saturday.
"People were coming in, saying specifically they were supporting small businesses. There were a few familiar faces, but even more new ones," Glover said.
Small Business Saturday was started by American Express in 2010, with the goal of helping small businesses get more customers and encourage more people to shop local. It's the Black Friday for small businesses.
Glover, who boycotted big retailers that opened on Thanksgiving Day, said she thinks more people are turning to support small businesses because they're angry with some of the practices of big-box stores.
"I think it's going back to the basics: locals supporting locals," she said. "And as you see more and more closing, it brings more awareness of the need to support them before they close."
While a handful of local companies said they were disappointed with the day's turnout, several Polk County small-businesses owners said they saw large numbers.
Amy Wiggins, spokeswoman at the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce, said there's a growing movement to support small businesses and more people are recognizing that shopping small and supporting local businesses is critical to the success of communities.
"Many of our members reported a strong showing by regular customers and were pleased to welcome new customers out to support the SBS," Wiggins said.
At Treasure House Antiques & Collectibles in Winter Haven, owner Susan ?Barriero said many people, including loyal customers, new faces and snowbirds, showed up. The mall that includes about 50 antiques dealers advertised its Small Business Saturday specials, and that effort might have paid off.
"I think they like the small-town flavor of a mom-and-pop store, and I think people don't want to see them go away," Barriero said.
One of a Kind Lamps and Gifts in Lake Wales stayed open till 8 p.m., four hours longer than its usual Saturday schedule. A lot of people came in because they'd heard it was Small Business Saturday, said owner Tom Walkup.
"We were very happy with that," he said. "A lot of people get to know me and the wife because we make our stuff. It doesn't say 'Made in Japan' or 'Made in China.'"
Mayzie's on Cleveland Heights Boulevard in Lakeland was not as crazy as on Black Friday but still had a large turnout.
"It's encouraging because small businesses are part of the community -- they build the community, they shape the character of the community," said manager Amanda May. "It just shows the spirit of the season."
Across the board, the Florida Retail Federation had forecast a 5.2 percent increase in sales this holiday shopping season, running from Black Friday through Dec. 24. This number includes sales by small-business owners. Florida Retail Federation spokesman John Fleming said the weekend sales activity was generally in line with the organization's expectations.
Early reports to the Lakeland Area Chamber of Commerce seemed to echo those expectations.
Nathan's Men's Store in downtown Lakeland also reported a large number of people coming in to shop the specials on men's apparel.
Owner Harris Estroff said the company promoted the day with newspaper, social media and Internet ads.
"I felt like it was a lot more meaningful than last year, that people are beginning to understand what Small Business Saturday is," ?Estroff said. "It's not the easiest thing to run a small business and try to compete with the big guys."
The popularity of social media, Wiggins of the Chamber said, makes it much easier for businesses to communicate with customers than they did before.
"But the economic situation still is an everyday reality. Even the big retailers saw more people, but less spending," she said. "We are proud to say that our small-business members are positive about this holiday shopping season and looking forward to 2013."
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