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Some retailers say shoppers didn't embrace Small Business Saturday this year

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL - Darcy Potter McDonald, owner of Brown Butter Bakery in Scappoose, helps a customer at her store. While the bakery was not open on Small Business Saturday, McDonald said she has seen traffic in the store slowly start to increase heading into the holiday season.After the shopping frenzy of Black Friday comes Small Business Saturday.

Initiated in 2010 by American Express, the day encourages consumers to spend their money at locally owned businesses in their community.

In Columbia County, retailers reported mixed results this year, with some noting tepid sales compared to prior years.

The decrease in reported foot traffic locally mirrors the national trend for 2017. The number of shoppers on Small Business Saturday declined by 4 million customers, according to the Small Business Saturday Consumer Insights Survey released by the National Federation of Independent Business and American Express.

In Oregon, the most popular shopping spots on Saturday, Nov. 25, were restaurants, pubs and bars, followed by clothing and accessory stores, according to the survey. The survey also revealed that a majority of shoppers explored local businesses because they enjoyed shopping in their community or believed customer service was better at small businesses.

Some shop owners, like Shannon Vaerewyck of Bertucci's Chocolate Shop, said that while she saw more new faces come through the door this year, traffic in general was slower than last year. In 2016, Vaerewyck recalled seeing large groups of people walking through town, but this year she saw more couples and individuals.

"People were shopping, but we just never had that, 'Oh my gosh, there's a lot of people in here mode,'" Vaerewyck said.

The influx of new faces was a positive, Vaerewyck added, but she noted that not as many shoppers made purchases either.

Brenda Stoddard, owner of Houlton Bakery, said she experienced a similar trend and felt that business was much slower than last year. Stoddard had a different take on this year's low turnout. With the recent news of Armstrong World Industries in St. Helens laying off 130 employees by mid-2018, Stoddard said the news probably affected the way people were planning to spend their money.

Natasha Parvey, who runs Keep It Local Columbia County, said she spoke with many business owners who had a markedly different experience and saw more customers this year.

At Preheim Business Center in Scappoose, owner Brady Preheim noted "a busier Saturday than normal."

His shop participated in the American Express Small Business Saturday program, as well as the Keep It Local campaign.

"I had several people who came in and did say that they were shopping specifically local because they wanted to buy local," Preheim noted.

"We also did more advertising, so it's hard to know whether they saw an ad or were just trying to shop small."

Still, Preheim contends the national Small Business Saturday campaign worked.

"I think there has been enough awareness made about the shopping day, and there are people that are deliberately shopping locally."

Preheim said more people visited his store this year in search of cell phones and cell phone services, as well as accessories, which bodes well for the technology-based business looking to round out the year with strong sales.

While Small Business Saturday is touted and promoted as a way to support local shops around the holiday season, that doesn't guarantee a spike in holiday sales.

Looking ahead, Vaerewyck said, sales in general are up heading into December, even though she and others may not have gotten the same jolt from Small Business Saturday or shop local campaigns as they did last year.

In addition to the Keep It Local campaign, an inaugural small business expo was sponsored by the St. Helens Economic Development Corp. and hosted at Columbia River Reception and Events. The event brought in between 140 to 170 customers to purchase from business owners who don't have brick and mortar shops. The event was highly successful, Parvey said, and many of the vendors who came from across the county had great sales.

For the second year in a row, Keep It Local Columbia County also promoted its Catch the Holiday Spirit campaign, which runs throughout November and December.

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