National retailers' Black Friday blockbusters can leave small, locally-owned stores in their dust.
"It's hard to compete on Black Friday when everyone is at the big chain stores," lamented Mariana Robles, 30, co-owner of OM. Boutique & Hair Salon in The Mix at Union Plaza in Downtown El Paso.
That's why Robles hopes her small, women's clothing and jewelry boutique and other small El Paso stores and restaurants can have their own version of Black Friday success on Saturday -- the fourth annual Small Business Saturday.
Robles is teaming up with owners of two other boutiques and a novelty gift shop, located in the same building at 518 W. San Antonio in the Union Plaza District, to offer discounts, free wine, and a drawing for a gift basket as part of the special day for small businesses. They'll also get a boost from the Downtown Artist and Farmers Market held each Saturday from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. across the street from The Mix shops.
American Express started Small Business Saturday -- the Saturday after Thanksgiving -- in 2010 to encourage consumers to support local, small retailers during the critical holiday shopping season. The credit card company, along with other companies and organizations it has recruited, also offer businesses help in promoting the day.
Last year, American Express estimated that consumers who were aware of Small Business Saturday spent $5.5 billion that day at locally-owned stores and restaurants.
Consumers' awareness of the special day is going up. Forty-four percent of consumers nationwide were aware of Small Business Saturday in a survey taken early this month, compared with 34 percent a year ago, American Express reported.
But Small Business Saturday has been slow to catch on in El Paso. Many small merchants know little or nothing about it or choose not to get involved in it.
Chris Hernandez, owner of Krystal Jeans, which sells women's fashion jeans, at 620 S. El Paso St., in Downtown, said he likes the idea of Small Business Saturday. But he hasn't gotten heavily involved in promoting it, he said.
He usually posts something about it on his social media sites, he said.
The Small Business Saturday campaign likely won't strike much of a chord with the majority of Hernandez's customers who come from Mexico, as is the case for most Downtown stores, he said.
Hernandez and his family, which also operates Hernandez Fashions at 615 S. El Paso, do a lot of radio promotions and offer big discounts each year on Black Friday and the rest of the important Thanksgiving holiday weekend, he said.
"We try to stay competitive with the malls and every other store who has Black Friday specials," Hernandez said.
"This weekend is the most important shopping (period) of the year. It kicks off the holiday season when we usually make the money that carries us through the rest of the year," he said.
Hernandez again this year has highway billboards advertising Krystal Jeans for the holiday shopping season in part to attract El Pasoans to his store, he said. The Small Business Saturday campaign might do the same, he said.
"It's making a name for itself," he said. "I'd like to see a coordinated (local) effort. We need to promote it better."
Veronica Soto, executive director of the Downtown Management District, said the district is trying to promote Small Business Saturday more this year than in the past on its social media and Web sites.
Downtown, with about 350 mostly locally owned stores and restaurants, has El Paso's largest concentration of small businesses, Soto noted.
"I hope some people do consider supporting small businesses and look for a different experience from a mall," Soto said. "More El Pasoans are considering Downtown as an alternative, but we still rely heavily" on shoppers from Mexico, she said.
The Greater El Paso Chamber of Commerce this year was asked by American Express to help spread the word about Small Business Saturday and try to get more businesses involved, said Cristina Bringas, chairwoman of the chamber's Business Development Division. It's promoted the day through emails to members, through its Web site and on social media, she said.
"Big businesses have the money to put their names out there for this weekend. Everyone tends to go to the big names," Bringas said. "It's really a matter of creating a sense of urgency and support for small businesses," which are a huge contributor to the local economy, she said.
Original headline: El Paso slow to latch on to Small Business Saturday campaign
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