Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

November 22, 2012

Small businesses looking to Saturday

Kokomo officials encouraging people to shop local for the holidays.

By Lindsey Ziliak
Tribune staff writer

— When Black Friday crowds dwindle Saturday at Kokomo’s largest retail stores, Shawn Hilton hopes his comic book business picks up.

Hilton is among 100 local businesses looking to see increased foot traffic and sales during this year’s Small Business Saturday.

“We’re looking for that initial big pop in sales, but I also would like to get four or five new customers out of it,” said Hilton, who owns Comics Cubed in downtown Kokomo.

American Express created the day three years ago, it says, to help small businesses struggling during the recession, the Associated Press reported.

The credit and charge card company encourages cardholders, who have registered in advance online, to make purchases with their cards at a participating business. In exchange, the cardholder will receive a $25 rebate paid for by American Express.

“The small business situation has improved since this program started,” Hilton said.

For the past two years, Hilton said he’s seen a small uptick in sales on Small Business Saturday.

But even a small bump in revenue is appreciated during a weekend when locally owned shops used to be all but forgotten, Hilton said.

Word is spreading about the event.

Tom Tolen, community planner for the city of Kokomo, said last year he had no idea what Small Business Saturday even was.

“But I see it everywhere now,” he said. “There’s a lot of talk about it.”

More businesses than ever are taking part in it.

Tolen said this year’s merchants include Sound of Music, Goblin Games, City Tire, Sunburst Day Spa, Top of the Line Detail and Howard County’s YMCA, among others.

“I think it’s a movement that will continue to grow,” he said.

Hilton said social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have facilitated the movement. He said he sees more messages on those sites every day promoting local shops and businesses.

And American Express’ advertising campaign for the event hasn’t hurt.

It’s the kind of advertising small businesses could never afford on their own, Hilton said.

The comic book store owner is expecting even better sales this year than he had last year on Thanksgiving weekend.

“I wouldn’t say it’s the perfect storm, but we’ve got a lot of variables in our favor,” he said.

Kokomo had just a little bit of snow a few weeks ago, and Hilton said he’s hoping that put local residents in the holiday spirit.

And with Black Friday sales starting earlier than ever this year, Hilton thinks devoted shoppers will finish at the larger stores sooner and have more time to peruse local shops.

Hilton said everyone can help with Small Business Saturday, even those who refuse to shop on one of the busiest holiday shopping weekends of the year.

Just recommending a favorite small business to friends and family members can help out shops where every customer counts, Hilton said.

Mayor Greg Goodnight said supporting the local businesses will give the community a boost.

“Our small businesses are the lifeblood of our community,” he said. “They create jobs, preserve neighborhoods and fuel the local economy.”