Small business owners hoping for strong weekend sales – TribLIVE


In recent years, the mad rush of post-Thanksgiving sales promotions has been tempered by the steady rise of online shopping.

This year, it will be further tempered by concern over the coronavirus, as the U.S. is in the midst of a nationwide surge in positive cases.

That makes Small Business Saturday all the more important for local merchants — there are roughly 30.7 million small businesses in the U.S., according to the federal Small Business Administration — who are facing a holiday shopping season unlike any other in recent memory.

“Usually, Small Business Saturday is huge for us,” said Matt Falenski, owner at Laurel Highlands Meadery, with locations in Irwin and Greensburg. “There’s a lot of small businesses that are owned by families, and any day like this is really big for us.”

As a business offering a specialty product — mead is a spirit made by fermenting honey, with origins dating back to 3,000 B.C. — Falenski said that in addition to promoting his and other small businesses, he also spends a fair amount of time explaining his product to customers.

“Our location in Irwin has done a lot of events where we talk to people about the product and the process,” he said. “And we try to promote small businesses all throughout the year. Shopping at a small business helps pay for a kid to go to summer camp; it’s not just money that’s going to some corporate office somewhere. It’s pretty much being spent in the community where you live.”

Small Business Saturday is a promotion started in 2010 by American Express, with businesses across the nation taking part in its “Shop Small” initiative. Click here for a searchable map of “Shop Small” businesses.

Eric Parco, owner of PA Vapor on Route 22 in Murrysville, as well as the Bean Counter coffee shop next door, said he’s hoping for strong sales over the whole weekend.

“We probably do better on Black Friday than Small Business Saturday,” Parco said. “It might even be better this year because the big guys spread their (Black Friday sales) out so much.”

Parco said a bump in business would be great, but his goal has been building a loyal following by focusing on customer service.

“We make sure to take care of everybody,” he said.

Elsewhere, holidays sales promotions are the order of the day.

In Downtown Greensburg, Small Business Saturday will see 21 participating merchants offering bingo cards to fill out, for a chance to win prizes.

To play, shoppers take their cards along as they visit downtown shops. When shoppers visit a business, they must locate the holiday elf that will be placed somewhere inside each store. When a shopper finds the elf, they must have the store owner or a staff member sign the box on the card designated for that particular store.

Once a shopper completes a standard five-in-a-row bingo, their name will be placed in a drawing for a chance to win a gift card to a participating business. Twenty-one shoppers will win a gift card valued at $10 to $50.

“This year has been especially hard on our small business owners, so it’s more important than ever to shop small this holiday season,” said Ashley Kertes, executive director of the Greensburg Community Development Corp. “We’re excited to partner with the Greensburg Business & Professional Association and the Downtown Greensburg Project to host such a fun event that we hope will encourage shoppers to support the Greensburg business community.”

And while Greensburg business owners are offering promotions to bring more people in the door, staff at Eleventh Hour Brewing in Pittsburgh’s Lawrenceville neighborhood just switched to a takeout-only business model, in response to the uptick in covid-19 cases.

For general manager Allison Zavacky, the timing of the surge in cases is unfortunate.

“Business usually picks up for the entire holiday season around now,” she said. “We’re basically going to have to adapt based on what we start to see. We’ll try to come up with ways to still give people what they want.”

Like Parco, Zavacky said she feels confident the family-owned business can rely on a strong local customer base they’ve built over the past three years.

“Developing relationships with the people in your areas, treating your customers well, that’s probably the most important thing,” she said.

Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Patrick at 724-850-2862, or via Twitter .

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