Turlock’s annual Festival of Lights Christmas tree lighting ceremony isn’t just a time to eat, drink, and be merry.
It’s also the prelude to Shop Local Saturday, the one day of the year when shoppers are encouraged to support their local vendors.
“We want you to remember to shop local, and come back the following day for the nationwide shop local promotion,” said Dana McGarry, head of the Turlock Downtown Property Owners Association.
According to McGarry, the Festival of Lights acts as a preview night of sorts, reminding shoppers of the myriad businesses downtown. In some cases, Turlockers who rarely venture to the city center see new businesses for the first time.
And then, store owners hope, they’ll return less than 24 hours later to purchase something they saw.
First developed by American Express as a marketing promotion in 2010, Shop Local Saturday has grown in importance over the past two years. According to the National Federation of Independent Businesses, a plurality of independent retailers say Small Business Saturday has become their most important shopping day of the season.
That’s because Black Friday has become a shopping day dominated by deep discounts on electronics – not the sort of thing one finds at mom-and-pop stores.
American Express continues to support the shopping day, offering a $25 statement credit for cardholders who register on their website and spend $25 or more in a single transaction at a small business on Saturday.
Matt Nascimento, owner of Turlock’s Bike Works, remains unconvinced by the holiday. He sees it as a scheme to convince more small business owners to accept American Express – a more costly card to process than competitors.
And Nascimento isn’t sure that shoppers take Small Business Saturday seriously; while it may be easy to say one supports small business, the sidewalks have seldom been packed with shoppers in past years.
“It’s a great concept,” Nascimento said. “I just don’t think people are serious about it.”
Nascimento admits that his business is less foot-traffic dependant than many others; shoppers rarely walk in off the street and decide to purchase a $300 bike at a moment’s notice.
But Nascimento said his business, celebrating four years in business on Thursday, has grown significantly. Shoppers come from Fresno – or farther – in search of the specialty bicycles he stocks.
And, like McGarry said, Nascimento admits the Festival of Lights serves as a great marketing opportunity. Hundreds of potential new customers learned about his business for the first time on Friday night, Nascimento estimated, just because of his prime Main Street location near the festivities.
“This (location) is my PR campaign,” Nascimento said.
For other downtown retailers, Small Business Saturday is a monumental event.
“Saturday is always a big day at the Silk Garden,” said Terry Newcomb, who owns the store with her husband, Paul Newcomb.
The store is abuzz on Small Business Saturday, she said, with scores of familiar faces from Silk Garden’s 17 years of business walking through the doors. Old customers, in town to visit family, will often stop by for their only visit of the year.
The Silk Garden even offers hot cider on Small Business Saturday, just to make the store a touch more welcoming.
For some other retailers, Small Business Saturday marks only the start of something bigger.
Geiger’s Jewelers owner Rick Geiger pointed across his bustling store on Black Friday, when the store’s holiday pricing first took effect.
“We’ve been like this all day long,” Geiger said. “We’ve been very busy.”
Even more shoppers are expected today, in search of Christmas staples like diamond earrings and engagement rings and trendy jewelry like Michele Watches alike.
Now the oldest jewelry store in town, entering its 30th year of operations, Geiger has seen both the economy’s ups and downs. Geiger said the early indicators are good for a big Small Business Saturday and a big holiday season.
“From here, it just keeps building through Christmas,” Geiger said. “And it looks like it’s going to be a good Christmas.”