SMALL BUSINESS SATURDAY: Local retailers hope customers buy in to ‘shop local’ campaign

A couple leave Ella June's boutique Main Street in downtown Greenfield. The store and smaller businesses are hoping for a bump in sales during Small Business Saturday today. (Tom Russo | Daily Reporter)

HANCOCK COUNTY — Denna Gundrum stayed busy Friday, Nov. 27, hustling around her shop, Penny’s Florist, Home Decor & More in Greenfield, posting sale prices and stocking shelves with holiday merchandise.

She’s hoping for an influx of customers today — Small Business Saturday — when businesses typically project to go into the black for the first time each year.

This year, however, many are facing the real fear of not going into the black at all.

[sc:text-divider text-divider-title=”Story continues below gallery” ]

Click here to purchase photos from this gallery

It’s been a difficult year for many small businesses to stay afloat. At least five such businesses in downtown Greenfield have closed this year.

“It’s heartbreaking seeing business go out, and that’s happening right in our own hometown. That is scary for everybody,” said Gundrum, whose overall sales are down about 20% so far this year.

“It’s a little frightening when things are so unpredictable,” she said.

Small Business Saturday, also known as Shop Small Saturday, was created by American Express in 2009 to help to promote retailers amid the recession. This year, they’re hoping the annual event helps them survive the pandemic.

A study by American Express found that 64% of business owners felt that this year’s Shop Small event is more important than ever, according to Andy Goldberg, the company’s senior vice president of global brand management and planning.

Last year, an estimated 110 million people participated, spending a record total of $19.6 billion.

“A lot of us small businesses are depending on these last six weeks of the year to survive, so it’s more important now than ever to support these local businesses,” said Kim Pauszek, owner of Francis + Fern boutique.

Retailers, restaurants and service providers have been forced to get creative when it comes to drawing and retaining customers.

Gundrum said many are turning to curbside delivery, private shopping appointments and more online sales than ever before.

Such has been the case at Francis + Fern, with downtown locations in both Greenfield and Fortville.

Pauszek started off as an online retailer, so has always had a strong online presence, she said, but she’s now offering free local delivery and shipping all over the U.S. and Canada to boost business.

“This business is my baby. You have to do what you can to survive,” she said.

This year was especially tough on Pauszek, who had already signed a lease to expand her boutique to Fortville when the pandemic hit.

“So during the shutdown I was paying two rents, not even sure we would be able to open it,” she said.

After enduring the state-mandated shutdown, which shuttered non-essential businesses for weeks earlier this year, she was able to open the Fortville shop in June. She has been focused on boosting business at both locations ever since.

“If there’s any time to go above and beyond, it’s now,” she said.

This year, the Greenfield Area Chamber of Commerce and Greenfield Main Street have paired up to support businesses like hers with a Show Your Love to Local campaign.

“With merchants hurting the way they are, working together seemed like it was advantageous for everybody,” said Gundrum, who has partnered with both the chamber and Main Street many times in the past.

In addition to the chamber’s ongoing “We Got Your Back” campaign, which supports local business, Greenfield Main Street is offering a $20 coupon booklet that contains exclusive promotions from downtown-area merchants.

Fortville Action Inc., another Main Street organization, is encouraging the community to shop local with a shopping passport program. The group’s campaign culminates during its annual Winterfest on Dec. 5 in hopes of drawing customers downtown.

“We’ve purchased gift cards from the participating businesses to be given away at Winterfest as passport winner prizes. We will have a grand prize that will include a $10 gift card from each business participating along with a $100 Visa card,” said Fortville Action member Milda Sterrett.

She said the community is motivated to support those local businesses which makes downtown Fortville so unique.

Retta Livengood, director of the Greenfield Area Chamber of Commerce, encourages the community to think of the Shop Local movement in broader terms than just local shops and restaurants.

“It’s not just retailers. The whole shop local thought process needs to include everything from banking local to buying cars local to getting your furnace installed local. It’s making a conscious decision to spend in your own community,” she said.

While she knows shipping products from online retailers to your door can be tempting, she urges people to consider the bigger picture when it comes to deciding where to spend their money.

“Shopping local reinvests in your own community,” she said. “Now is the time of year when all things are about shopping local, but we should really be doing it every day of the year.”

Gundrum, an outspoken Shop Local advocate, steadfastly agrees. Community support is essential to helping small businesses survive and thrive, she said.

She said this has been the most challenging, unpredictable year she’s seen in her 48 years at the shop.

“It’s been impossible to predict how things are going to go this year,” said Gundrum.

Many retailers like herself have stocked up on merchandise for various seasons throughout the year, only to be faced with forced shutdowns or diminished traffic in their stores.

How Small Business Saturday sales will go today is anyone’s guess, she said, but local retailers are certainly hoping for the best.

Most are making face masks and hand sanitizing stations readily available, and are encouraging customers to keep their distance within stores.

Pauszek said it’s always touching to see the number of regular customers who come out to support her and other retailers on Small Business Saturday, when the stores are typically decked out for the holidays.

“People come out just because they know it’s such an important day. It’s super heartwarming,” she said.