'Our Black Friday'
Depending on your perspective, the "Black Friday" — and its "Cyber Monday" cousin — that follow Thanksgiving is either a glorious annual opportunity for bargains and bonding among family members and friends or a stressful, overblown baccanal of consumerism run wild.
For those in the latter camp, Small Business Saturday, which moves the spotlight from box stores and Amazon to local merchants on Nov. 30, provides a comparatively soothing approach to browsing and shopping for holiday gifts.
Terry Smoke, who started the multifaceted Troutdale General Store 19 years ago at 289 E. Historic Columbia River Highway, is among the East Multnomah County merchants who looks forward to the nationally recognized shopping day each year.
"On Friday, we see more people go to the big box stores early and see them in the afternoon," he said. "Saturday is our Black Friday. We see a lot of people here on that Saturday. The local community is very supportive of businesses out here in East County."
At the General Store, which boasts a cafe, three packed-to-the-gills floors of unique gift items and a Christmas-themed wonderland on the basement level, preparation for Small Business Saturday and the holiday shopping season starts in July.
"We're geared up for a busy day," he said on Tuesday, Nov. 26. "We're cranked up and excited about it. The (employees) have got the place all decorated up and the spiced cider is ready to go."
Next door at Celebrate Me Home/Rustic With a Twist, the similarly festive home furnishings and decor emporium was already attracting a healthy flow of customers on a chilly Monday morning, days before Small Business Saturday.
"When I go to places like this, when you're just browsing, you find something you like and things you want that you can't find anywhere else," said Boring resident Pam Huston. "You won't find this (kind of merchandise) online. And it's a feast for your eyes."
KayLynn Ramberg, owner and esthetician at Columbia Gorge Spa, 205 E. Historic Columbia River Highway, will celebrate Saturday with sales on gift certificates for spa services and offering a free gift with any purchase of $10 or more.
"As a small business owner, I rely on the (holiday) season to get us started in the new year," she said. "For us it is busier, and we really try to promote through emails and social media that it's Small Business Saturday and First Friday (at 5 p.m. Nov. 29, in downtown Troutdale)."
All this is the kind of talk that makes folks like Parris Foley's heart sing. As the West Columbia Gorge Chamber of Commerce's member services manager, she believes strongly in the importance of a shopping day devoted to smaller, independently owned area shops.
"It's about the future and well-being of the community," Foley said. "(Small businesses) offer a better level of service, and you have access to unique products. It's a better carbon footprint as far as transportation, infrastructure, maintenance and things like that.
"There's also more money available to enhance the community," she added. "It's what makes (Troutdale) unique."
Thrill of discovery
Gresham merchants also look forward to drawing in customers looking for a scaled down shopping experience.
"Small businesses are so important," said Jen Braun, a sales associate at Shop Girl Consignment, 111 N. Main Ave. in downtown Gresham. "(Small Business Saturday) is great just to support downtown Gresham. It's such a great community down here."
With a pool of about 2,000 consigners, Shop Girl, which Thea Enos opened 16 months ago, keeps a back room full of merchandise ready to find a place on the crowded but fetching sales floor.
"That's the way we like to keep it, so we're never in need of stock," Braun explained. "Our inventory is way more unique than anything you'll find in a box store."
Down the street at Foxtrot Vintage, 227 N. Main Ave., Jim Allison is among the 15 vendors selling a dizzying array of curated merchandise: cartoon character stuffed animals, funky lamps, kitchen widgets, and collectible vintage records, posters, books, jewelry and glassware.
"The appeal here is for people who like diverse stuff," Allison said on Tuesday. "From old cowboy boots, Pendleton shirts, globes — whatever it is, we have 15 vendors looking everywhere for new items. And they have the experience and intuition that says to them, 'Hey, somebody might want that.'"
Kiera McPherson, a Gresham resident pleased to come across a stuffed version of her favorite Pokemon character, "Torchic," at Foxtrot Vintage, backs up Allison's claim.
"It's a fun place to stop by," she said. "You never really know what you're going to find."
Lynn Snodgrass, CEO of the Gresham Area Chamber of Commerce, thrives on preaching the gospel and multiple benefits of supporting local merchants whenever possible — and especially during the holiday season.
"Shopping local at any size business keeps jobs here, schools open, streets paved and fire and police officers minutes away and protecting us," she said. "Online shopping might be easier and maybe even a little less expensive, but your dollars leave Oregon and never come back."
But beside the economics and politics, she added, Shop Small Saturday simply offers an enjoyable alternative to the typical modern holiday-shopping frenzy and an opportunity to get reacquainted with the heart of your community.
"It's a fun way to shop — less stress, good deals. Everyone's not in a rush to grab it and go," she said, And while online shopping, Black Friday and Small Business Saturday have their place, she added, "a dollar spent online may save you money today, but the cost to what we value and need locally is tremendous."
Small Business Saturday
Started in November 2010 by American Express, Small Busines Saturday was conceived as a counterpart — and possible antidote — to the unofficial Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping "holidays" that immediately follow Thanksgiving.
This year's Saturday event, which shines the spotlight on smaller, locally owned businesses, many of which have sales and special deals, takes place on Nov. 30.
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