WEST FARGO - It’s one of the biggest shopping weekends of the year and small businesses throughout the metro area want you to shop small.
This year’s Small Business Saturday on Nov. 30 kicks off what will be a short holiday shopping season. Still, Fargo-Moorhead’s small businesses are hoping their reindeer game planning for the holidays puts them on Santa’s profitable list.
At 300 Sheyenne Street, Grateful Cratefulls co-owners Dani Gilseth, Aimee Hanson and Dori Walter have their new Pioneer Place space decorated and are ready for some Christmas jingle in the register.
“The Christmas season is huge!” Gilseth said recently.
They’ve added new makers and merchandise to boost traffic, and are taking orders for their gift crates and selling at Pride of Dakota shows.
Apparently, sleep is overrated.
“We love Christmas time,” Gilseth said. “The months of November and December make up a very large part of our business. I would say 50 percent of our business.”
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Today, Grateful Cratefulls plans to have a crafter working in the store, specials, drawings and tea for shoppers, Gilseth said.
Having people support their store and other small shops can be a difference-maker for the area, Gilseth said.
“(It) means more than they could ever know to have the support of your community,” Gilseth said. “We believe in giving back to our community, and the only way we can do that is with the support of the community. So, it comes full circle.”
A 2018 American Express survey found that for every $1 spent at a small business, about 67 cents stays in the local community.
For many small businesses, the next three-plus weeks will determine whether the balance sheet ends the year in the black, or glows redder than Rudolph’s nose.
A U.S. Small Business Administration survey estimates that shoppers spent $17.8 billion at independent retailers and restaurants on Small Business Saturday in 2018.
Since Small Business Saturday began in 2010, the SBA estimates $103 billion had been spent at small businesses on those nine days alone.
A big plus: About 41% of online shoppers said they’ve shopped small on Small Business Saturday, SBA reports
It’s not just retailers looking to make their coin, but restaurants and other service businesses.
For Creatively Uncorked, 715 13th Ave. E., “Christmas is definitely our busy season,” owner Shanna Cramer said Thursday, Nov. 21, as she guided Microsoft employees through a painting session that doubled as a team-building exercise.
Office and private arts and crafts parties will fill her days during the run up to Christmas and the New Year.
“It’s definitely the most important season,” Cramer said.
When people think of Fargo’s West Acres mall, they often associate it with national and regional retail chains and food outlets. But their are some small businesses, too.
Minn-Dak Market co-owner Pernell Knutson says the store, which has made it it’s mission to highlight the region’s small businesses, relies on local customers throughout the year - but especially during the holidays.
The more the merrier when it comes to shoppers, she says.
“The holiday season is huge for any retailer. When you shop local, you are supporting the area. We can’t have teams, we can’t have all these activities (for young people), if you don’t shop local. The internet is fine, but we can’t have the Little League team, the ballet,” she said.
Near one of the mall’s northwest entrances, close to the Chili’s Grill & Bar, is the Fischer Stride Rite store.
Mother-daughter combo Renee and Sally Fischer own one of just 27 “brand partner” stores among the 300-plus Stride Rite stores, Renee said. The family has owned the store for 18 years, though they moved to their new spot in the mall in August, doubling their space.
Christmas isn’t a big time for shoe-buying; that’s spring and back-to-school.
To even out the cash flow, and to tap into the Christmas spending tsunami, the Fischers added stuffed animals, toys and clothing.
This year, they took a gamble and doubled their toy inventory, Sally Fischer said.
“This is the first Christmas with our expansion, so we’re excited to see where it goes. This Christmas will be very important,” Sally Fischer said.
“Not everyone knows we’re locally owned,” Sally Fischer said, adding they make a point of shopping at local merchants themselves.
“We love to shop small. It kind of goes full circle,” she said.
Sally Loeffler, owner of Beyond Running and Outermost Layer in downtown Fargo, said the downtown businesses are aiming to create an experience that provides “a nostalgic feel to Christmas shopping.”
It’s about “getting folks to slow down, which sounds funny coming from people running a running store,” she said Friday, Nov. 22.
Part of that strategy includes making more of a personal connection with shoppers. That can help people set aside their compulsion to grab their smart phones and search the world for what they hope will be the absolute best deal.
It’s frustrating, at times disheartening, but the internet’s Pandora’s Box can’t be resealed.
“We live in a world where online sales won’t go away,” Loeffler said. The key, she recently told a group of downtown businesspeople, is to forge a personal connection.
“People weren’t choosing (consciously) to not shop locally,” Loeffler said. Tapping into the smart phone “was a knee jerk reaction.”
“It’s really up to us” to tell people why they should shop locally, she said.
One way she’s done that is to encourage her employees to drop personalized “thank you” cards into shopper’s bags.
“We’re trying to make a human connection, which is what small business is all about,” she said.
In Moorhead’s Center Mall, the remaining retailers are a determined bunch with a core group of customers.
At the K & Krafts arts and crafts store, owner Kay Parries’ Christmas season has been going great guns since October and will taper off about mid-December.
The early start is because crafters “better get it made” if they want to have it ready to wrap for the holiday, Parries said.
Parries said she has some deals planned for Small Business Saturday, but above all, “we’re praying for no snow,” a wish unlikely to be granted given the region’s latest weather forecast.
Her success relies on knowing her customers. It also helps that scrapbooking is an area where exact color shades and textures of materials aren’t best served by the internet.
“We really pride ourselves on knowing what our customers like … and they’re pretty good about telling us what they like,” Parries said.
A few doors down at Puffe’s Fine Jewelry, owner Scott Puffe is waiting for his rush of shoppers to come.
Thirty percent of jewelry industry sales are made from Thanksgiving to Christmas, with one-half of those sales happening in the last 10 days before Christmas Day itself, Puffe said.
Still, he’ll also have some specials for Small Business Saturday.
“I know it’s just one day, but we love to promote buying locally,” he said.
He, too, emphasizes the bond local merchants have to their communities. He pays local taxes and supports local activities.
For example, Puffe’s supplies tiaras for the Moorhead and Oak Grove high school homecomings, he said.
“You don’t see a check coming from Amazon” for local schools and teams, he said.
In addition to the short shopping window, Puffe said it will be interesting to see how farmers and others in the ag industry spend this Christmas. Muddy, wet fields have made the harvest a struggle. Also, a third of the area’s sugar beets could not be harvested and remain frozen in the fields. That will be a devastating hit for some producers, industry officials have said.
Lots of business owners may see fewer receipts this holiday season because of the hits to ag, Puffe said. Still, he’s confident going forward. After all, his family’s store has been open 44 years.
“We’re here for the long haul,” Puffe said.