COVID-19 creates challenges for Small Business Saturday

Meghan Flynn
A pair of shoppers make their way along the 300 block of N. Main Street as merchants have placards outside their businesses promoting sales inside in downtown Garden City during Shop Small Saturday, a day for shoppers to support local businesses.

Small Business Saturday is a shopping day the day after Black Friday that highlights locally owned businesses.

Myca Bunch, Garden City Area Chamber of Commerce president, said businesses in Finney County have been celebrating it for a while.

“If you walk out downtown streets on that day it's pretty exciting to see all the customers down there celebrating our locally owned businesses,” she said.

Sheila Crane, Garden City Downtown Vision executive director, agrees.

“Typically Small Business Saturday is a very busy day downtown,” she said. “It's a very important day for the downtown retailers.”

The Small Business Saturday landscape will look a bit different this year than in previous years, Crane said. There’s no way to predict what it will look like, but it won’t be the same.

“We put out a consumer survey back at the end of August and what was in that survey was that about 44% of those that took the survey will be shifting 25% of their shopping through the holidays to online,” she said. “That's significant.”

Crane said Downtown Vision has worked closely with the businesses on social media, advertising and encouraging websites so that “small businesses down here can try to capture a portion of that shifting online business due to COVID.”

She hopes that people will come down and shop in person and take advantage of curbside pickup when it’s available, online shopping when it’s available and delivery.

“We highly encourage everyone to shop small and shop local,” she said. “It's vital to our economy.”

When people shop online at stores that are outside of the area, those dollars go somewhere else, but when people shop locally, the dollars stay here, Crane said.

“That benefits everyone here,” she said.

Bunch agrees and said that shopping locally on Black Friday and Small Business Saturday is more important this year that it ever has been before.

“There were many businesses that were closed for a couple of months earlier in the year and so they are really looking forward to having a strong holiday season to hopefully recoup some of that revenue,” she said.

Supporting local businesses is incredibly important right now, Bunch said.

“They're the ones that support and sponsor our local schools, our sports teams. They're the ones that give back to the community in more ways than one,” she said. “This is our time of year where we need to give back and show them our support.”

D’Arcy Meng, co-owner of Ward’s Garden Center, said COVID-19 has affected the business, but it has been open for 44 years, since 1976, and the business has had to view it as just another challenge.

The difficulty with COVID-19 is that it not only affects them, but it affects the community, Meng said.

“We're just doing the best we can to stay open, to service people and going into the Christmas season of course our faith is a big part of it,” she said. “We of course want to celebrate Christmas and the birth of Christ, so we're going to remain open and just carry on like always.”

Meng said Small Business Saturday reminds customers that they play a key role in helping small businesses and the community thrive, so they encourage people to come out and dine and shop.

“I just ask everyone to support every small business in this community, because they do play a vital role,” she said. “Because so many of us support the community, donate to the community and it's important, especially at this time with everything that's going on, that we just help each other. Just remind each other how much of a key role they play in helping us.”

This year they don’t have anything special planed, but typically during Small Business Saturday they have coffee and refreshments out early in the morning for customers, Meng said.

Erica Kuhlmeier, owner of Flourish Herbals & Aromatherapy, said Small Business Saturday is a great opportunity to highlight the hidden gems in the community.

“People are familiar with big brands, maybe they don't realize all these little unique places that exist out in our communities, and Shop Small Saturday is an opportunity,” she said. “We invite the public in to see who we are and how we can help them, how they can be part of our community.”

This year the shopping weekend is particularly important as many small businesses, both the retail and service industries, have taken a hit due to COVID-19, Kuhlmeier said.

“It’s really going to kick off our holiday season,” she said. “We really hope that our community supports small business, shopping online. Lots of stores have moved to an online platform — we're one of them. We always look forward to meeting the public.”

Small Business Saturday is typically a fun time at her business and others in Garden City, Kuhlmeier said.

“Our downtown merchant’s group does a ton of fun, family-oriented activities and events, and so many of those have had to be altered or postponed or just canceled,” she said. “We're doing our best to pivot and shift and really make everybody still feel welcomed and safe during the coronavirus crisis.”

Erica Kuhlmeier is shown outside her business, Flourish Herbals, 203 E. Laurel St. in downtown Garden City.