By Scott Smith
---- — Under the drop ceiling at Palmer’s Jewelry, the plaster crown molding hearkens back to the birth of downtown Kokomo. Under the floors, there’s a layer of marble, left by a Depression-era bank.
The store has its history, but it has kept up with the times by remodeling and expanding, all of it taking place at the corner of Sycamore and Main streets downtown.
“You have to constantly change or you won’t make it,” Palmer’s manager John Martin said. “We’ve changed, constantly.”
Saturday is the fourth annual Small Business Saturday, an idea concocted by American Express to build on the momentum of the post-Thanksgiving Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping free-for-alls. It’s catching on nationwide, thanks to positive reviews from participating businesses.
It’s also a chance for small Kokomo businesses to introduce themselves to a larger client base, and take advantage of the heavy traffic of shoppers out and about during this year’s shortened holiday shopping season.
“Small-business owners contribute to their communities all year long by creating jobs, providing unparalleled products and services, and keeping communities healthy and vibrant,” said Dan Danner, CEO of the National Federation of Independent Businesses.
“Small Business Saturday is an opportunity for each of us to give back, to invest some of our hard-earned dollars back into our local and community businesses, and keep Main Street America strong. I encourage every American to shop small this coming Saturday.”
Small business is big business. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, the nation’s 23 million small businesses account for about 54 percent of all U.S. retail sales.
Laura Ullery, owner of Laura’s Fine Clothing & Gifts, 1502 W. Sycamore St., specializes in moderately priced, quality merchandise, with a focus on domestically produced goods and unique items.
Larger retailers might order dozens of an item in each size. Her shop places smaller orders, ensuring that customers won’t see the same item all over town.
“You don’t want to see yourself coming or going, that’s what everybody says. We do try to keep things unique,” she said.
Knowledge of manufacturers, borne of personal interactions with labels and designers, gives Laura’s an edge, Ullery said.
On Kokomo’s north side, Todd and Amber Jordan are gearing up for the holiday season at Kokomo Toys & Collectibles, 1244 E. Morgan St., a business which is thriving through sales to an online community of toy collectors.
The Jordans also open their store to walk-in business from noon to 5 p.m. weekdays.
“We actually get things before [big box retailers], because they have everything sent to big distribution warehouses before it goes out to the stores,” Todd Jordan said. “And we usually sell [new toys] for about the same price.”
Collectors come back because of their constantly updated stock of hard-to-find items, but local parents have come to see the business as a good place to get in-demand toys, without having to hazard the holiday shopping crowds, the Jordans say.
For small businesses to survive these days, they have to fill a niche the larger retailers don’t serve.
Kevin VanDuyne, owner of Joy Christian Bookstore, 1803 E. Vaile Ave., said simply touting the fact a business is locally owned and operated doesn’t count for much anymore.
“Everyone says ‘yeah, we should buy local,’ and then it doesn’t happen,” VanDuyne said. “It really is a tough one. Unfortunately, now it all comes down to the best price, where it used to be sales and service that drove the reward.”
VanDuyne said making sure every customer is treated equitably is a key piece of the business.
“We just make sure that we treat every customer consistently, appropriately and fairly, and we’ll do everything in our power to make sure that contact is consistent from one customer to the next.”
There wasn’t a local push for Small Business Saturday this year in Kokomo, but the emphasis on supporting local business is nonetheless strong, said Susan Alexander, president of the Kokomo Downtown Association.
“We frequent each others’ businesses, and that keeps us strong and building and thriving,” she said.