3 Takeaways From Philadelphia’s Small Business Saturday

Shop owners say the day’s business boom shouldn’t come just once a year.
iStock.com

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Big-box stores and online retailers weren’t the only establishments that got a bump over the holiday weekend. On Small Business Saturday, the #shopsmall movement infiltrated national social media and “shop small” posters and stickers lined the windows of small business storefronts while “shop small” door mats welcomed customers to discounts at local stores. And after the weekend, some small business owners in Philadelphia say they feel even more galvanized to support the region’s downtowns that are threatened by big retail. Here are three takeaways from the weekend.

Small businesses need more community and local government support.
“I wish every day could be Small Business Saturday,” said Meredith Podob, the owner of Latitudes and Longitudes, a Manayunk shop featuring merchandise like handcrafted jewelry, greeting cards, and handbags. Small Business Saturday is Podob’s biggest sales day of 2016 so far, with 106 transactions — on an average summer Saturday, the shop processes 35 transactions. “I didn’t sit or take a break. It was great exposure for us,” Podob told Philadelphia magazine, adding that the efforts of the Manayunk Development Corporation have worked to get her local business market itself out on billboards and buses.

But the challenge, Podob said, is having this kind of traffic regularly. And Winnie Clowry of Manayunk’s popular eatery Winnie’s LeBus, who’s been in the neighborhood for almost two decades now, is concerned about the block across the street from her restaurant. “The restaurant next door to me went out of business 15 months ago, and now we have empty shops on the block,” she said. “We need to drive more small businesses into the area.” To Clowry, the neighborhood’s small businesses are in a constant battle with malls and shopping complexes that are expected to keep certain hours and can easily replace stores that go out of business.

The city Commerce Department’s Business Security Camera Program is one way the city is looking to revitalize small commercial districts. Through the program, the city reimburses businesses that install cameras to increase safety in shopping areas. The Storefront Improvement Program is also designed to reimburse business owners who make storefront improvements. “We want to make investing in small businesses an intentional pursuit, an effort that happens more than one day a year,” Commerce Department director Harold Epps told Philadelphia magazine.

Philly’s small businesses are working to increase and improve their presence online.
E-commerce beat out traditional brick-and-mortar store shopping this year, with 44 percent of consumers shopping online and 40 percent shopping in store. “Online shopping is a real challenge for a lot of local retailers,” said Clowry. “And I’m just glad the online feature hasn’t completely [disrupted] the restaurant industry yet.” But to stay relevant, Clowry has plans to roll out an online catering arm of her business and also a web platform where customers can order meals online. The restaurateur also owns Smokin’ John’s Barbeque on Main Street in Manayunk and employs a total of 30 full-timers and about 45 part-timers.

Podob has used social media to her advantage to advertise deals at the Latitudes and Longitudes, but doesn’t feel the urgency to develop an online store. “Customers can’t really get what I have in the store online, because these are one-of-a-kind pieces,” she said.

Small businesses create the most jobs in Philly.
A report from the Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia found that 54 percent of Philadelphia’s jobs are created by small businesses and 98 percent of Philadelphia’s businesses are small businesses with fewer than 50 employees. “Small businesses have roots in their community, are more likely to employ Philadelphians and put money back into the local economy,” Epps said.

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