Downtown District gave thanks and gave back Nov. 30


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As Black Friday sales dwindle down and holiday cheer fills the air, Iowa City’s Downtown District has geared up for the season while pushing local sales to the forefront.

Small Business Saturday is a national event that falls just after Thanksgiving.  The occasion originally started by American Express, encourages shoppers to spend their money locally and support small businesses.

This year, the Downtown District Board created new initiatives to promote the event including “The Giving Book” — a catalogue of items selected by business owners. If a shopper buys an item from the book, a portion of the proceeds will benefit the United Way of Johnson County or a charity of the business’ choice through Dec. 8.

“This time of year, there is so much around the hustle and bustle of shopping,” said Downtown District Executive Director Nancy Bird. “It can feel quite cold and consumerism-based, but [this shows] our businesses down here care about our local community, and we are invested in giving back.”

In addition, the University of Iowa Community Credit Union sponsored the catalogue and agreed to match up to $5,000 for proceeds raised.

Karen Kubby, a co-owner of Beadology, 220 E. Washington St., said her store chose mood rings to include in the Giving Book and use 20 percent of gift certificate sales to give back to the community through Dec. 8. Beadology Iowa chose to give back to the Domestic Violence Intervention Program.

“We had a really great day on Small Business Saturday,” she said. “We had a lot of people coming in. They had seen the Giving Book, and they wanted to shop locally. I was pleased to have people say that so directly to us.”

According to a survey from American Express and the National Federation of Independent Business, consumers spent an estimated $5.5 billion nationwide in 2012.

Catherine Champion, who is in charge of marketing for the Downtown District Board, said the board pushed social media to promote Small Business Saturday and also implemented a door-to-door campaign for the Giving Book. The board distributed more than 3,000 books in the community through the campaign.

“Some things, the idea is just more transferable when you hold it in your hands,” Champion said. “People want to see and touch things. [The Giving Book] is something they can hold in their hands, and they can think about what they want.”

In addition to The Giving Book, “Where’s Elfie” is also a new initiative put on by the Summer of the Arts. Over the summer, the elves were hidden in downtown Iowa City, and the idea is to find them in the downtown businesses. If participants find 10 of the 23 elves, they enter a drawing to win a downtown gift package. This will go on through Saturday.

The Englert Theater, 221 E. Washington St., also had a showing of Elf to put shoppers in the holiday spirit. President of the Downtown District Board Bill Nusser said he loved this idea.

“I would think that in terms of forming memories downtown, if I were a kid, being able to go downtown on a Saturday and go see Elf at the Englert … to me that would be like Christmas itself,” he said. “The downtown tries to provide an experience that is really great for families.”

Champion said Small Business Saturday is really the beginning to a series of events happening downtown during the holiday season. Iowa City’s annual “Celebrate the Season” will be held Friday and Saturday.

“I think Small Business Saturday is about supporting your business, and really every Saturday until Christmas is like it,” she said. “We’re going to start this Saturday and just go [into] party time downtown. More than anything, downtown is fun — that’s the deal.”

Champion hopes eventually Small Business Saturday will expand beyond downtown.

“Our success goal will be matching the success of the consumers,” she said. “This doesn’t have to just be downtown Iowa City. It can be the whole city. Artists could do it, anyone could do it.”

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