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Smaller stores have their day, too



Date published: 11/24/2012

BY JOYCE M. ROSENBERG

AP BUSINESS WRITER

NEW YORK

--After the crowds have shopped at large stores and sprawling malls on Black Friday, many smaller businesses are hoping today will be their day.

Thousands of small stores, restaurants, spas--and even dry cleaners--across the U.S. will offer their own discounts and promotions to draw holiday shoppers on what's known as "Small Business Saturday."

Potomac Point Vineyard & Winery in Stafford County, for example, is offering a 20 percent discount off gift items and cases of wine, as well as 15 percent off purchases of six bottles and 10 percent off three bottles. (Club members add an extra 5 percent discount.)

Other participants locally include The Bavarian Chef and Home Team Grill, both in Fredericksburg, and Storage 2000, which has locations in Spotsylvania and Stafford counties.

American Express created the day three years ago, it says, to help small businesses struggling during the recession. The credit and charge card company encourages cardholders, who have registered in advance online to make purchases with their cards in exchange for a $25 rebate paid for by American Express, if they buy something at a participating business.

American Express won't say how much the promotion costs, but Susan Sobbott, president of American Express OPEN, the company's small business division, says it is a considerable amount.

But even small merchants who aren't officially part of the event hope to get a bump in revenue during a weekend when they used to be all but forgotten in an avalanche of deep discounts offered by big stores and online retailers. Perhaps more importantly, the day has become an opportunity for small businesses to build a corps of customers who will keep coming back year-round.

In Dixon, Ill., 51 small businesses have banded together to recruit local artists and performers to create a party-like atmosphere today, and they're also planning other events for the holiday season. A year ago, the combination of the American Express rebate and the events helped give the participating businesses a collective revenue increase of more than 50 percent on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, says Lisa Higby, owner of Distinctive Gardens, a nursery and garden center there. But the benefit goes beyond a one-day jolt.

"It gives us a yearlong impact, much greater exposure for our business," Higby says.

Assistant business editor Cathy Jett contributed to this report.