Thursday | December 14, 2017
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Small Business Saturday gains traction

When the biggest shopping season of the year begins next week, Hilo businesses hope to attract holiday shoppers on Small Business Saturday.

On Nov. 25, a day sandwiched between the twin shopping extravaganzas of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, residents are incentivized to spend money at local businesses instead of big-box retailers.

This year, more than 100 businesses are expected to attract shoppers in downtown Hilo, said Miles Yoshioka, executive officer for the Hawaii Island Chamber of Commerce.

“There seems to be an air of excitement around downtown,” Yoshioka said.

The chamber was named, along with the Hawaii Small Business Development Center and several other local organizations, as a “neighborhood champion” by American Express, which began Small Business Saturday in 2010. Neighborhood champions are responsible for organizing community events on Small Business Saturday and distributing promotional materials.

Judi Mellon, director of the development center, said this is the fourth year she has been involved with Small Business Saturday in Hilo, adding that community awareness of the event has increased precipitously.

Mellon said she first became interested in Small Business Saturday when she visited Truckee, Calif., a small town nestled among the Sierra Nevadas, which has a thriving small-business community that strongly participated in the event.

“I’m excited that other people are catching on,” Mellon said.

Yoshioka said the Hawaii Island chamber prepared for the day last week with a Small Business Blitz, canvassing downtown Hilo businesses with promotional materials.

Of the more than 300 chamber members, Yoshioka estimated that approximately 80 percent are classified as small businesses — although he noted that, based on the federal definitions for “small business,” chains such as KTA Super Stores also qualify.

“It’s an important time, economically, for the island,” Yoshioka said.

Mellon said a small-business purchase keeps 3.5 times more money within a community than a similar purchase at a big-box retailer would.

“You’re paying for kids’ ballet lessons and funding our soccer teams,” Mellon said. “People may not realize how much more money comes from local businesses.”

Tracie Yoshimoto, owner of The Most Irresistible Shop in Hilo, said previous Small Business Saturdays have generated boosts in sales, particularly as her gift shop is relatively unaffected by Black Friday.

In order to attract shoppers, Yoshimoto said customers who spend more than a certain amount of money on Small Business Saturday receive a gift — a set of chopsticks.

Bell, Book &Candle owner Sara Bresnahan said last year’s event brought a nearly 25 percent bump in sales.

“Small businesses are so critical to every town,” Bresnahan said. “They’re what gives us our character. People are still going to need the big stores, but if you’ve been to one Target, you’ve been to every Target.” Bell, Book &Candle will eschew its usual hours and open on Saturday for sales as well as a book signing by spiritual counselor Erika Ginnis.

Even businesses not conducive to shopping sprees are participating. Brigitte Cornick, owner of pet grooming business Downtown Dogs, said she sees a bump in customers during the holiday season.

“Everyone wants their dogs to look good,” Cornick said. “People think that if your dog doesn’t look good, that’s a poor reflection on you.”

Although Cornick said she’s fully booked for Nov. 25, Downtown Dogs still will have an open house, serving coffee and hors d’oeuvres to passers-by.

“I’m just excited to see other people get excited about local businesses,” Mellon said. “They keep places unique. Otherwise, we’d be just like a mall.”

Email Michael Brestovansky at


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