PORTLAND, Maine — It’s not a big ticket extravaganza, so you won’t walk out struggling under the weight of a Frost King refrigerator or a 72-inch flat screen. On Small Business Saturday, the anti-corporate Black Friday, mom-and-pops and family-run businesses rule.
The increasingly popular sales concept launched in 2010 by American Express puts the purchasing power back into the community. Credit is given to card holders who register, and participating businesses get marketing help at a national level. In Maine, businesses across the state are participating. This year the state fully endorses the growing event.
“Small Business Saturday is all about supporting your neighbors, the tens of thousands of small-business owners in communities all across Maine,” said Gov. Paul LePage in a prepared statement. “We have many chances year-round to shop local, but the holiday season is an especially important time to celebrate and support our local Maine merchants.”
Nationally an estimated $5.5 billion was spent in independent shops on the Saturday after Thanksgiving last year, according to a survey by Redshift Research.
In Portland, two dozen businesses are using the day to put consumers’ dollars directly back into the community. Purchases made on Nov. 30 from places such as Edgecomb Potters and Le Roux Kitchen go towards Milestone Foundation’s HOME Team. The homeless outreach program that supports people on the streets is the recipient for Shop for a Cause day, sponsored by Portland Buy Local and Portland’s Downtown District.
“It’s a great way for the business community to give back and get people to shop downtown,” said Rachel Irwin, events and marketing manager for Portland’s Downtown District.
Last year close to $7,000 was raised for Junior Achievement of Maine. “We see such a great response from retailers who want to give back. It shows the community spirit in Portland,” said Irwin. “People think of Black Friday, but there are so many unique shops and galleries in the arts district and Old Port. It’s so important for people to understand that some of these retailers have been around for 30 years.”
And others like More & Co. on High Street are months old. Co-owner Maria Vettese has stocked her Portland showroom with handmade chocolates, knit hats and beeswax candles made by artists from Maine and around the globe. She looks at her goods as “little families of treasures.”
The small space feels like a curated collection spanning artisan cups made by a celebrity chef in Brooklyn to ceramic sculptures from Stockholm, Sweden. “Everything is inspired by our travels. There are shops on the West Coast and in London that feel like this,” she said.
On Saturday More & Co. offers 10 percent off gifts from Mast Brothers Chocolate to linen towels and aprons made in Tokyo. “Maybe you might buy something online, but balance that with buying a few things here in town and it makes a huge difference in the economy,” said Vettese. “For us it’s about connecting people to beautiful, unique and interesting things.”
Also on Saturday, BDN Maine Events will stage its Holiday Food & Gift Fair at Portland Company, 58 Fore St. The fair will run from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. For information, visit events.bangordailynews.com.
Jim McConnon, economics professor at University of Maine, isn’t certain how much of an impact Small Business Saturday has in the Pine Tree State. But anecdotal evidence and national studies suggests there is one.
It would depend on “how much was spent that day at local stores versus what’s spent outside the community or at chains that export some of that money outside the area,” he said.
This year Maine will be thrust into the national spotlight.
Longfellow Books in Portland was notified by email this week that the acting administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration and the head of the Environmental Protection Agency are making an appearance at 11:15 a.m. to encourage Americans to shop small.
Longfellow Books co-owner Chris Bowe wasn’t sure why he was selected, but knows that more consumers come out each year the day after Black Friday.
“The Saturday after Thanksgiving is when the great American parade of buying is on,” said Bowe.
This year the bookseller off Monument Square has invited eight local authors, including Richard Russo and Monica Wood, to recommend reads for the day. As part of a national Indie First campaign, the scribes will be selling and signing novels all day.
“This is our take on Small Business Saturday. We’ve added this layer to it to make it a more exciting and festive day,” he said.
In Bangor a team of artists are doing their part to get in on the indie spirit.
Photographer Steven Gray and local poets and painters are leaving anonymous gifts throughout the downtown on Saturday. As part of the London-based This Must Be For You campaign, bright yellow envelopes filled with photographs, pins and paintings will be tucked into park benches, awaiting shoppers.
“It’s a small way to give back to the city of Bangor and the general area that has been so positive lately and very, very supportive of what we are doing,” said Gray, who shares a studio space on Central Street.
For maximum impact he approached merchants to see which shopping day, Black Friday, Plaid Friday or Small Business Saturday would be the best. The answer was unanimous.
“All of us that chipped in on the project have our own small businesses,” said Gray. “We feel a direct attachment to it.”
BDN writer Whit Richardson contributed to this report.