A day after the mall rush and chaos of the big-box stores dominated Black Friday, businesses across Cape Ann are hoping holiday shoppers will warm to Small Business Saturday, a national promotion more in tune with the economy of Gloucester and its surrounding towns.
"I think Small Business Saturday is a much more significant day (than Black Friday) for us on Cape Ann," said Peter Webber, senior vice president of the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce. "We are, after all, dominated by small businesses. We don't really have the big-box stores here; it's mostly independent small businesses in all of our communities, so this is more our day."
"Our Gloucester Merchants Association's logo has always encouraged people to shop local and shop downtown," added Joe Ciolino, who runs The Weathervane gift shop on Main Street and heads the merchants group. The business promotion organization recently changed its name from the Gloucester Downtown Association with an eye toward including businesses beyond the city's historic downtown.
"We've been very lucky; we've managed to survive the expansions of the malls — the Northshore Mall, Liberty Tree Mall and all those other places," Ciolino added. "There's a real sense of community down here and not every community can still say that."
Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, drew its name years ago as a day in which businesses traditionally made it in "into the black," or profitable in their financial ledgers, for the year on the first day of the traditional holiday shopping season. In recent years, the term has come to define a mad rush for mall and other big-box store promotions that begin at midnight Thanksgiving night.
In the meantime, American Express and the federal Small Business Administration have taken up promotion of Small Business Saturday, with a focus on what traditional downtown shops and other small businesses have to offer in a day when online sales are also squeezing brick-and-mortar retail profits.
"I don't think Main Street Gloucester really competes with online (sales) or the malls," said Tom Lance, who, with his wife Lynnee, runs The Brass Monkey, an 11,000-square-foot gift shop in the heart of Gloucester's downtown. "I think we're a unique bunch of retailers that tries to fill a niche you just can't find online.
"The success of The Brass Monkey," he said, "comes through the fun people have when they come into the store. There are the lights, the decorations, the aromas, the visuals. You feel an excitement in the store that you can't get online or in the malls. And I feel the same excitement you feel about the other stores here — Mark Adrian's (shoe store), The Cave, Cafe Sicilia, the olive oil store (Cape Ann Olive Oil Co.). When you're in these places, it's not like being in a mall. It's a much more enjoyable shopping experience."
Cape Ann's small businesses have a series of events planned throughout the shortened holiday season, which has six fewer shopping days than a year ago thanks to a later-than-usual Thanksgiving. Those events kick off with downtown Gloucester's annual Ladies Night from 5 to 10 p.m. next Thursday, Dec. 5, then continue with the likes of Rockport's "Makers Festival," Dec. 14 to 15, focusing on locally-made holiday gift items, and Gloucester's 43rd annual Men's Night on Dec.19.
On Small Business Saturday, Webber noted that some merchants around Gloucester, Rockport, Manchester and Essex will offer Black Friday-style specials.
"Some will have special offers, some I know will be open extra hours, but it's not really about discounts, it's about supporting local businesses and shopping locally," he said.
The Brass Monkey, for example, will be offering anyone who buys a $100 gift certificate for the store a free $20 gift certificate for themselves.
"That seems to have a real appeal for people," Lance said, "but then you have the personalized service, too. The goal for our team here is just to try to engage the customer, but with no high-pressure sales talk. We're here to help the customer, not pressure them. That's who we are, we've been successful in not changing, and I think we're making downtown Gloucester more of a shopping destination for people."
Ciolino, who also coordinates the annual Santa Parade and tree lighting which is this season Sunday, said he believes there's a lot to be said for the more personal service small businesses can offer, where malls and the online shopping experience fall short.
"It's still kind of nice to have somebody wait on you, to wrap it up for you, to help you with a selection," he said, "and we're hoping (Small Business Saturday) gets people thinking about the downtowns — whether it's ours of somebody else's.
"The local shops can't survive forever without people's participation," he said. "These downtown shops are unique things and have specialty items that, a lot of times, you just don't find online, things you can't get anywhere else. That's what makes them special."
Ray Lamont can be reached at 978-675-2705, or email@example.com.
Besides Small Business Saturday, Cape Ann merchants are hosting some special events for shoppers:
Thursday, Dec. 5: Gloucester's annual Ladies Night from 5 to 10 p.m.
Friday, Dec. 6: Downtown Rockport, formerly "Shop Rockport Night," from 4 to 9 p.m., and Manchester Holiday Stroll, from 4 to 8 p.m. Many shops and galleries throughout both downtown staying open for extended hours and offering exclusive promotions, raffles, and giveaways.
Saturday, Dec. 14, and Sunday, Dec, 15: Rockport's "Makers Festival," focusing on locally-made holiday gift items, at Rockport Art Association & Museum, Brackett’s Ocean View Restaurant and Spiran Hall, all downtown.
Thursday, Dec. 19: Gloucester's 43rd annual Men's Night from 5 to 10 p.m.