Small Business Saturday gains consumer recognition as sales spike in Iowa City


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In its third year, Small Business Saturday prompted a near 30 percent increase in sales at one local business, and several other area businesses reported significant boosts as well.

The upbeat mood is echoed nationally — a report released today says U.S. consumers are more confident in the nation’s economy than they have been in five years.

According to a report released today by the National Economic Council and the Council of Economic Advisers, consumer sentiment is at its highest since September 2007, after plummeting in the summer of 2011. Also, the National Retail Federation predicts holiday sales will increase 4.1 percent this year to $586.1 billion.

Sandwiched between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Small Business Saturday kicked off the local holiday shopping season and many local storeowners say they saw an increase in awareness and sales this year.

Small Business Saturday was started in 2010 by American Express, and it has grown since then. Last year, more than 100 million Americans participated in the event, and this year, the event had more than 3 million followers on Facebook. President Obama also supported the cause.

“These businesses create two out of every three new jobs in America, helping spur economic development in communities across our country and giving millions of families and individuals the opportunity to achieve the American dream,” he said in a statement to Small Business Saturday supporters.

Ritu Jain, the owner of Textiles, 109 S. Dubuque St., said her sales Nov. 24 went up 30 percent over last year’s.

“I had more people mention Small Business Saturday than I ever had before,” she said. “[And] people made a point of telling me that they liked shopping locally.”

John Solow, a University of Iowa professor of economics, said it is no surprise that Small Business Saturday got more attention from consumers this year because of the steadily growing economy.

“The economy is improving,” he said. “It’s improving slowly but it is improving, and as it does, consumers are going to spend. They’re not quite so worried.”

But, he noted, consumers will ultimately seek out the best deal possible — regardless of a shop’s location. In fact, he said, as the Internet continues to grow as a base for shoppers, some local businesses will be phased out.

“Should we still keep horses and hire blacksmiths to shoe them because we have a responsibility to the local blacksmiths?” he said. “In the long run, that’s just not going to happen. The world changes and we progress.”

Jan Weissmiller, a co-owner of Prairie Lights, 15 S. Dubuque St., said local businesses are worth supporting because of their economic impact.

“Local businesses are the tax base for any community,” she said. “The more you spend your money outside of your local community, the more loss there is to the tax base. If we want to have a civilization, we need to have small businesses that are supporting the tax base.”

Weissmiller said this tax base for the community supports the growth of infrastructure in the city, including roads, schools, and shelters.

Prairie Lights offered discounts during its first year participating in Small Business Saturday and reported a 25 percent increase in sales.

In addition to economic benefits, business owners insist they assist the community in other ways.
Textiles compiles gift baskets of donated gift certificates from various local businesses five times a month, Jain said. The baskets are donated to charities and auctioned to raise money.

Charlie Nusser, the son of the owner of Hands Jewelers, 109 E. Washington St., said the establishment also participate in auctions and projects, including donating to the dog park and donating to the city’s festival of trees.

This was Hands Jewelers’ second year participating in Small Business Saturday and sales went up 11 percent over the previous year, he said.

“I thought it was a lot more effective than it was last year,” he said. “I think it’s starting to take off, and one of these days, it will become as staple like Black Friday or Cyber Monday.”

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