Small Business Saturday is usually an elbow-to-elbow affair of big crowds and big sales at local retailers, but business owners are stretching out and down-shifting the celebrations a bit in 2020.
"It's tough because there was a nice, positive energy to that weekend," said Patrick Holland, who owns Mountain Top Toys on Signal Mountain and Learning Express on the North Shore. "You really can't do it the same way."
But there are still deals to be had during the extended sales retailers are offering, and local stores are offering enhanced online shopping, delivery and curbside pickup options, Holland said. And it's more important than ever to support local businesses, he added.
"We do 30% to 35% of our business in six to seven weeks," he said. "Who you support these next four to five weeks are who will survive next year."
Small businesses have had to get creative to weather the impact of the pandemic, said Kim Meyer, the manager at Blue Skies on the North Shore. The gift shop has taken a host of precautions — from masks and plexiglass partitions to a capacity limit of 15 — to stay open this year.
"Obviously it could be better, but it just is what it is," Meyer said. "We're happy people are coming in and realizing we're doing the best we absolutely can to make it a traditional Blue Skies shopping experience."
The North Shore Merchants Collective hosted extended, earlier-than-usual holiday open house events and sales last week, and the businesses are now rolling straight into specials and holiday promotions for Black Friday and Small Business Saturday, Meyer said.
"We're making it a two-week event to allow for a safer environment to shop," she said. "We're stretching it out."
Chattanooga business owners retool their plans for Small Business Saturday during a pandemic
At Good World Goods on East Brainerd Road, owner Victoria York-Tomlinson has ditched her usual holiday plans for lively open houses and artists' showcases in favor of a storewide sale and drawings for free gifts that will go on for weeks.
"We're offering 25% to 60% off everything in the store through Christmas," York-Tomlinson said. "Usually we do big weekends and we have crowds and people stand in line with food and wine, but who wants to share food and wine right now, and who wants to be in a crowd? I thought, let's just do something that benefits everybody."
Where to shop local:
Locals Only: localsonlygiftsandgoods.com
The Chattanooga Market: chattanoogamarket.com
Owl Cove in Ooltewah has leaned hard into social media and online ordering during the pandemic, with owner Miranda Perez hosting Facebook Live events several times a day to show off the store's inventory of clothing, accessories and gifts and share discounts.
The shop plans a host of specials for what Perez has dubbed their "OolteWOW Weekend" — just one example of how the business has gotten creative during this crisis, she said.
"I knew that we had to stay in front of people and make ourselves relevant and make sure we were all in this together," Perez said.
She has actually grown Owl Cove during the pandemic through a combination of social media, online ordering and personal touch, Perez said.
"All I need is a ring light and a mailbox," she said. "People want to hear from us, people know us."
At Olive Chattanooga on the North Shore, owner Josh Ferguson is planning his biggest discounts and shopping rewards of the year this weekend, as he always does for Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Sunday.
"Those three days of the year have always been our biggest sale of the year," he said.
The greatest difference is that Ferguson can't offer tasting, which has long been a mainstay of his business selling imported oils and balsamic vinegar.
"The experience is a little different, but the product and the service and the appreciation for the customer is the same," he said. "These are difficult times, and we appreciate everyone's business."
To support local artisans who don't have storefronts and have lost the shows and fairs where they used to sell their goods, particularly over the holidays, Carrie Black recently launched ShopLocalChatt online.
"COVID has made it increasingly hard for artists and small business owners to stay above water," said Black, whose Luna Lime Candles became her full-time gig after her bartending job disappeared. "I think people want to buy intentionally, especially now."
Contact Mary Fortune at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @maryfortune.