More people shopping locally

Anne Hyams of Charleston (left) gets the rundown on toy ideas for her grandson from Amanda Burch, manager of Wonderworks on Savannah Highway, on Saturday, which is becoming known as Small Business Saturday.

Mary Fersner adamantly stayed away from stores on Black Friday but began spending money Saturday at locally owned stores near her West Ashley home on what is starting to be called Small Business Saturday.

"I was not getting in all that mess on Friday, getting pepper-sprayed at Walmart," said Fersner, referring to a nasty incident on Black Friday eve in Los Angeles. "I support local businesses and I can get everything I want right here, without even crossing a river."

Fersner, who had just purchased several items at locally owned Wonderworks, planned to visit other local, small businesses in the St. Andrew's Shopping Center and South Windermere Shopping Center on Saturday.

American Express started marketing Small Business Saturday last year as a counterpart to two post-Thanksgiving shopping days: the long-held "door busting" of big-box retailers on Black Friday and the Internet shopping phenomenon of Cyber Monday, first coined six years ago for the online shopping on the Monday after Thanksgiving.

The credit card company boosted awareness of Small Business Saturday with a national TV advertising blitz this year, encouraging people to "Shop Small" on Saturday and offering Amex cardholders who registered cards a $25 credit for spending $25 or more. The card's Small Business Saturday Facebook page also highlighted local businesses.

Several local stores posted fliers on doors informing customers of Small Business Saturday, which inadvertently dovetailed well with efforts by the Lowcountry Local First's "Buy Local Month," which started Nov. 15 and ends Dec. 15. The organization also will celebrate the cause with a "Be Local, Buy Local Bash" 6:30-8:30 p.m. Thursday at 359 King St.

For those who need guidance on local stores, websites for LLF and the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce provide online directories.

Despite the commercials, awareness of Small Business Saturday at several local stores varied widely, but shoppers seemed supportive either way.

Todd Nixon, 43, of Charleston, was shopping for new road bicycle at Charleston Bicycle Co. on Savannah Highway and didn't hear about Small Business Saturday. He went to the bicycle store simply because it's local and known for having quality bikes and good customer service.

"I always, always, always go local," said Nixon. "I think anytime we can buy and support local (businesses) the better."

Murrell Timmons, 36, of Mount Pleasant, was shopping for gifts with her boyfriend at Half-Moon Outfitters on Coleman Boulevard and planned to take American Express up on their offer, which she applauded because it refocuses the shopping spotlight away from big chain stores to small businesses, including locally owned restaurants.

"This year I'm going to make a bigger effort to shop locally than ever before because I realize that a lot of people are in trouble, especially small businesses," said Timmons.

Caroline Nelson, manager of Elizabeth Stuart Design, which sells housewares, furniture and jewelry on Savannah Highway, said that while the American Express promotion piggybacks well with efforts by Lowcountry Local First, Amex may benefit as well. The cards rates for businesses are higher than Visa and Mastercard and showing support for small businesses may help them gain accounts.

As of noon Saturday, Nelson described it as "a Visa day -- so far." She also reported good turnout of shoppers for the day before Thanksgiving and for Black Friday.

Meanwhile, Marshall Simon, the owner of Gwynn's of Mount Pleasant, said locals have helped the boutique department store, which employs 21 people full-time, to have it's best year in its 45-year history, but that the store itself is making the effort to shift to local services, such as switching from Terminex to Palmetto Exterminators.

"If I have a problem, I don't call an 800 number. I call the owner of the local company," said Simon. "That makes a difference."