'Small Business Saturday' a Shot in the Arm for Ardmore Shops
But on a record-setting weekend, big retailers still did best.
Traditionally, Black Friday is a much bigger boon for larger retail operations than it is for small businesses, so when American Express announced the creation of "Small Business Saturday" last year—a day-after special that uses rebates and free advertising to lure holiday shoppers to locally owned stores—Ardmore business owners were cautiously optimistic.
And while they didn't perform at Walmart- or Target-levels this weekend, they agree the program seems to have been a help.
"Black Friday is traditionally a mall thing, and most small businesses don't do very well, but Small Business Saturday—we were pretty busy," said Sherry Tillman, proprietor of Past*Present*Future. "My expectations are always low, though, so I'm never disappointed."
Tillman said it is difficult to ascribe the volume to one particular factor, but it seems to her that the promotion positively impacted sales. "I think people came out for it," she said, though she added that many seemed unaware of the rebates offered.
(Tillman is also executive director of First Friday Main Line, which is coming up again this week on Dec. 2. Be sure to catch the annual Ardmore tree lighting on Schauffele Plaza at 6 p.m., followed shortly after by the arrival of Santa. Check back with Ardmore Patch later in the week.)
'It didn't hurt.'
Nancy Smith, owner of A Taste of Olive, said business for her Ardmore location's inaugural post-Thanksgiving weekend was roughly in line with her expectations.
"We had more business on Saturday than we did on Friday, and I think Small Business Saturday probably had something to do with that," said Smith, who also owns locations in West Chester and Haddonfield, N.J. "A lot of the customers we had mentioned it."
Christine Vilardo, executive director of The Ardmore Initiative, said Small Business Saturday provides a boost to many Lancaster Avenue shops, but isn't a panacea.
"I think the concept is helpful, absolutely," she explained. "But many merchants don't accept American Express because they tend to be more expensive to use," and so their customers can't capitalize on the mail-in rebates that are central to the promotion.
Nonetheless, having extra shoppers in town benefits everyone, and sales were brisk at the Pennywise Thrift Shop on Saturday, said Lorraine Lerner, a full-time clerk at the store next to the Lower Merion Township Municipal Building.
"It didn't hurt," Lerner said, standing among a crowd of shoppers looking through a new inventory of holiday decorations on Monday afternoon. "It went very well, but then Saturday is always our busiest day."
It also didn't hurt that this past Saturday featured balmy, perfect weather.
Still, Ardmore has gone to even greater lengths to help stimulate small business sales. After brokering a deal with the township, Vilardo says that between last Saturday and Christmas, street parking in downtown Ardmore will be free.
"It removes one more hurdle to shopping here and allows us to stay competitive with the malls and strip stores," said Vilardo.
While the small businesses enjoyed modest success, it was a banner weekend for larger retailers. According to CNN, total spending reached $52.4 billion, compared to $45 billion last year, and several of the "big box" retailers in Suburban Square rode the wave.
"It was busy. Like ... extremely busy," recounted Nick Decker, a manager at Banana Republic. Though he declined to provide specific sales figures, Decker said his store opened three hours early on Friday and that he and the staff needed every minute of them to satisfy demand.
At Gap, volume was heavy. According to a store manager, they performed broadly in line with expectations, and topped last year's sales totals.
"We had a steady flow throughout the day," she told Patch.
Kathy Kearney, a manager at John Henry's, an Ardmore pub on Cricket Avenue, said her bar didn't enjoy much spillover from the Suburban Square crowds.
"Saturday was busy, but it's always busy in college football season," she said, before adding that Friday, a historically slow day, outflanked expectations.
"We had a high school reunion, though," she added.
Ardmore Patch Editor Thomas J. Walsh contributed to this report.