For Local Merchants, Small Biz Saturday Outpaces Black Friday Rush

by Marcus Harrison Green

Count Monika Matthews among the growing legion of Americans who abhor the consumerist carnage induced by Black Friday, the day when retail store aisles become indiscernible from WWE wrestling rings.

Both have unfortunately been venues of flying atomic elbow drops this season.

The Rainier Beach-based socialpreneuer releases a heavy sigh thinking about the thousands of South King County residents who scurried from Thanksgiving dinner tables to swarm the Renton Wal-Mart on Thursday to take advantage of its Black Friday shopping at 6pm that evening.  

“I’ve never participated in Black Friday and never will,” says Matthews.

Instead the Executive Director of Life Enrichment Group (LEG) much prefers Small Business Saturday.  This year, she’s using it to help re-launch Queen Care Products, a South Seattle-based beauty and cosmetics brand.

Queen Care Products was stewarded by LEG – the nonprofit Matthews founded to empower young women of color – but is operated, marketed, and sold by local high-school girls who participated in LEG’s Youth in Business Program, imparting them with entrepreneurial skills.

Matthews, and the young women who run Queen Care, thought Small Business Saturday would be the perfect time to launch the brand’s website ,offering its Crown Collection: an assortment of lotions including Mango and Lavender Shea Butter, along with a Brown Sugar facial scrub.

Monika Matthews holds lotions from the Queen Care products line. [Photo: Marcus Harrison Green]

“It doesn’t make sense to go all the way to Wal-Mart when there are similar products that are better quality in your own backyard. And it’s great to have a day to highlight local businesses,” the Rainier Beach native says.

Lodged between the retailer jubilee days of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Small Business Saturday was birthed by American Express in 2010 as a PR campaign that allowed discounts and freebies for AMEX cards holders.

While still viewed cynically by some, who have trouble overlooking its origins as the public relations stunt of a credit card company, more and more businesses have warmed to it, riding the recent wave of people’s preference for buying local and supporting their community’s economy in direct ways.

About 95 million people participated in Small Business Saturday last year, adding $16.2 billion to local business coffers, according to American Express.

Shoppers favoring local merchants have increasingly benefited South Seattle business owners like Andaluz’s Karla Esquivel, who’s owned her eclectic Columbia City clothing, jewelry, and home furnishing boutique for the last 12 years.

“Black Friday’s never been a big shopping day here. A lot of shoppers who live in the neighborhood, don’t necessarily want to buy into the Black Friday thing. They’re more into Buy Nothing Day,” she says, noting that almost half the stores along the neighborhood’s Rainier Avenue business strip were closed on Friday.

While Esquivel shares that she’s never tried to capitalize on Black Friday, she does expect an uptick in sales on Saturday, as more people become aware of Small Business Saturday.

She’s looking forward to the boost, as more and more shoppers prefer to go online shopping during the holidays rather than set foot in a traditional brick and mortar.

Online Black Friday sales were expected to surpass $3 billion this year, setting a new record, according to Adobe Insights.

However, for some the continued rise of online shopping, and its resultant shrinkage of the local tax base, puts additional emphasis on Saturday.

“Look, it’s just as easy to order goods and services online or at a business in one’s neighborhood, but only the second option invests in the local economy. It’s important for residents to understand the importance of keeping our money here,” says Susan Davis, who helps support nearly 200 small Southeast Seattle businesses as Executive Director of the Rainier Chamber of Commerce.

Others see Saturday as a welcome trend of people favoring local establishments over online screens as both a point of pride and a way to find social connection.

 “Yes, people are buying things, but instead of let’s get in and out of the door, and do what the talking head tells you to do like on Black Friday. It’s really about exploring your community,” says Griffin Williams, owner of Flying Lion Brewery in Columbia City.

Williams adds that the increased patronage he hopes his micro-brewery receives on Saturday should provide an opportunity for people to discover another community hub and hopefully forge new friendships.

“I’ve had 20 regulars who all met here and now they regularly go out to eat together. I expect more of the same on Saturday,” says Williams.

Saturday should provide plenty of opportunities as, in addition to participating merchants, several pop-up marketplaces selling handcrafted jewelry and local designer clothes will abound in and around the South End.

 Featured image: Offerings at Andaluz. Photo courtesy of Andaluz