A piece of the retail pie: Small Business Saturday puts focus on Chattanooga area ventures

Staff photo by Tim Barber/ Rachel Smith, left, reaches into a bag for an ornament held by Blue Skies store manager Kim Meyer. "Customers get either 10, 20 or 40-percent off today and tomorrow," owner Tina Harrison said.

Brittany Durkin expects big sales Saturday at her Cleveland, Tennessee, business as the store provided envelopes with discounts to the 375 people who took part in a 5K race on Thanksgiving.

"It's definitely a good sales day," said the owner of Terra Running Co. about Small Business Saturday.

Aimed at bolstering local shops, Small Business Saturday is backed by American Express. The company notes that two-thirds of every dollar spent at local ventures stays in that community.

A new survey shows that 74% of shoppers are supporting small, independently-owned businesses over the Christmas holiday season, and Chattanooga area merchants are sweetening the pot with innovative discounts and incentives.

Durkin said she expects the 5K race discounts and other sales could help drive a couple of hundred people through her 90 North Ocoee St. store.

"It's exciting and fun," she said.

At Blue Skies on Chattanooga's North Shore, business owner Tina Harrison said the store does a drawing of colored ornaments where shoppers can receive 10%, 20% or 40% off their purchase.

"That's a tradition," she said about the drawing at the 30 Frazier Ave. business.

At the store Free2Fly in Cleveland, it's offering a punch card for six months of free conditioning if a shopper buys an all-leather product, said Kim Nolen, its accounts manager. Also, the store is offering a $5 discount on $75 in purchases and $10 on $100 worth of buys, she said.

"Shop local," she said, adding the store at 264 Broad St. NW typically has a good Small Business Saturday.

Nolen said Free2Fly is a nonprofit and also operates Project Free2Fly, which teaches women coming out of bad situations such as addiction or homelessness how to sew and create. Then, their products are sold at the store, she said.

"They make the majority of everything we sell," Nolen said. "They earn income from what we sell here."

According to the Shop Small Consumer Impact survey from American Express, 73% of people feel that empty storefronts are a national issue. The survey said that 84% agree that the increase in empty storefronts and closing of small, independently owned businesses negatively affects their local community.

"We recognize the hardships faced by small business owners today and want to inspire people to take notice and Shop Small to support their communities on Small Business Saturday and beyond," said Elizabeth Rutledge, chief marketing officer at American Express. "Retail is changing, but local shops are the fabric of our communities, helping them to thrive in the future is part of our brand ethos and backing promise."

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.