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Get ready for Small Business Saturday Nov. 30

In 2010, after nearly three years of recession, American Express decided to try to do something to help small businesses survive. American Express designated the Saturday after Thanksgiving as Small Business Saturday. On this day, consumers are asked to shop at independent retailers and other small businesses, especially those that carry goods made in the US. This year, Small Business Saturday is Nov. 30.

American Express offers free marketing materials, free ads and other services on its website to small businesses that register by Nov.18.

In 2011, millions of shoppers participated in Small Business Saturday, and in 2012, estimated consumer spending for the event was estimated at $5.5 billion.

Why the need for Small Business Saturday?

Since 2008 when the U.S. housing crash followed the banking crisis, many businesses have seen their customers disappear as millions lost their jobs and had almost no money to spend.

This was especially true over the last five years for businesses in small towns: small grocery stores, cafes, hardware stores, beauty salons, bakeries, custom meat processors, florists, and more. It seemed that when people had to make purchases, they drove miles away to giant mass-market retailers and big-box stores, searching for the lowest prices.

As a result of the recession, some businesses closed. Long Prairie lost a restaurant and a deli, and is now facing the closing of its only furniture store. Empty storefronts dot its main street. Staples lost its anchor restaurant and banquet venue. After sitting empty for more than a year, that business is now under new ownership and fighting to make a comeback. The Stompin' Grounds coffee shop struggled to stay open. Staples' downtown hardware store changed ownership at least twice, and was closed for several months, but is doing well now. A grocery store at the north end of town closed, but recently the Jon's of Clarissa reopened the store.

Karin Nauber, director of the Long Prairie Area Chamber of Commerce, said the Long Prairie Chamber will promote Small Business Saturday by providing information about the event to the local area through its website, through its Facebook page, and through e-mail to Chamber members.

"I will be available to help if businesses are not sure how to access the information. We will also put the information on our Information Board that is located on Highway 71," Nauber said.

Wadena lost one independent bookstore, a restaurant, and a car dealership. Its business incubator (The Village Emporium), which once had over 30 micro businesses in residence, was sold to a new owner who brought in a bookseller and a natural foods restaurant. In 2013, the death of a long-time hardware store owner led to an empty storefront near the entrance to downtown Wadena.

Wadena Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Shirley Uselman said that the Chamber is sponsoring the annual Christmas Festival on Nov. 30 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Dec. 1 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Wadena-Deer Creek Elementary School. Admission is $1 and includes entertainment in the school auditorium throughout the day. The Christmas Festival features 80 booths including crafters, food vendors, and more. The Wadena Chamber is not directly participating in Small Business Saturday but encourages everyone to shop locally on that day.

Some businesses saw their sales fall and reduced their own spending in response. There was a domino effect. Newspapers and radio stations saw their advertising revenues plummet, as business owners tried to reduce expenses because their sales declined. People put off making major purchases and taking vacations. They spent less on groceries, toys, entertainment, and restaurants.

In 2011, the economy began to improve as unemployment slowly decreased. Today the stock market has completely recovered, vehicle sales are up and farmers are harvesting record crops. The housing market has not bounced back in rural Minnesota but some cities have experienced improvement in prices of existing homes and in housing starts for new homes. Many people are starting to feel more confident and have some money to spend.

Some small towns have seen new businesses arrive. In Browerville, several new gift shops and antique stores and an embroidery business have filled empty storefronts on Main Street. In Bertha, the Bear Country Mall is attracting customers who used to drive many miles for everyday items. A new women's clothing store is getting ready to open in downtown Wadena. A new Family Dollar opened recently in Staples on U.S. 10.

How to get ready for Small Business Saturday

Small Business Saturday falls right between Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the holiday marketing calendar. It's a perfect day to shop. Small businesses today have survived the recession, the demands for cost-cutting, and cautious consumers. Many owners are feeling more optimistic, and are finding ways to bring customers to their doors.

Here are some ideas used in prior years by small businesses around the U.S. to encourage shoppers to come out on Small Business Saturday:

• Encourage local businesses to work together to cross-promote each other.

• Promote local businesses through local media.

• Offer 10 percent off sales and BOGOs (buy one, get one free).

• Create special labels, bags, and flyers that say "Eat, drink, and buy local".

• Promote local businesses on your Facebook page.

• Throw a party on Nov. 30 at your business, with free coffee or other incentives. Make it festive!

• Give a discount to customers who bring in receipts from other small businesses they've visited on Small Business Saturday.

• Hand out coupons and flyers.

• Rent a popcorn machine and give out free popcorn to customers.

• Put out a banner or sandwich board to attract customers driving by on U.S. 71.

• Emphasize buying local for the holiday season as well as beyond.

• Use strategies to attract new customers as well as loyal, long-time customers into the store on Small Business Saturday.

Consumers can get ready for Small Business Saturday by making out their holiday gift lists now and studying them to see what items could be purchased at small local stores instead of in the Twin Cities, Alexandria, or Brainerd.

Of course, some items aren't available from small local stores, and would have to be purchased elsewhere. But consumers may be surprised to see what they could buy locally on Small Business Saturday!

Can local towns work together?

So many small towns in Wadena and Todd Counties are located on U.S. 71 and U.S. 10, that it only makes sense for those towns to work together for Small Business Saturday. Thousands of cars and trucks pass through these towns, heading north, south, east, or west.

Chambers of commerce and commercial clubs located in Long Prairie, Browerville, Clarissa, Eagle Bend, Bertha, Hewitt, Wadena, Sebeka and Menahga could team up to promote one another and catch the traffic going north and south with banners, sandwich boards, lighting, and outdoor events.

If consumers are made aware of Small Business Saturday through ads, flyers, coupons, and word-of-mouth, the sales revenue on Nov. 30 could reach historic levels, and help the small towns of the area.