FAIRMONT — Small Business Saturday celebrated its 10th birthday yesterday and never before has the shopping holiday taken on so much importance to local merchants.

Sandwiched between its counterparts Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Small Business Saturday — a national initiative encouraging shoppers to forego large box stores and spend their money instead at smaller brick-and-mortar outlets for the day — will play a vital role in the bottom line, if not survival, for many businesses.

The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 has upended the retail industry, hitting the nation’s 31 million small retailers particularly hard.

More than 60 percent of small businesses have witnessed substantial revenue losses in 2020, according to a recent survey by the Society for Human Resource Management. An astounding 160,000 businesses in the U.S. have closed their doors, more than half of them permanently, since the coronavirus arrived in America in mid-March.

Last year, Small Business Saturday spending hit an all-time time as 110 million consumers spent an estimated $19.6 billion at independent retailers and restaurants, according to American Express, the company that founded the shopping holiday a decade ago.

In its decade of existence, consumers have spent more than $120 billion combined during Small Business Saturday shopping.

But nobody expects those kinds of numbers in 2020.

According to a CNBC poll, 43% of all shoppers plan to spend less this holiday season than they did in 2019. The same survey noted that while 30% of shoppers planned to patronize a small business on Small Business Saturday, that figure is down by 9% from last year.

The average American will spend $805 on Christmas gifts in 2020, according to a Gallup poll, which also is down significantly from a year ago and the lowest projected spending figure since 2016.

Such is the foreboding news as small business owners rely upon holiday sales to recoup sagging revenues while facing the possibility of more shutdowns as COVID-19 infections rise in West Virginia and across the nation.

With millions of America’s small business owners and workers struggling to make ends meet, the shopping holiday took on added importance this year.

In Marion County, where its towns feature dozens of mom-and-pop businesses lining main streets, Small Business Saturday 2020 was more important than ever.

Joe-n-Throw coffee roastery and pottery shop in Fairmont was crowded all day Saturday with streams of patrons ordering at the counter after waiting in a long line that streamed out the cafe’s front door and onto the Adams Street sidewalk.

Rebekah Brown, Joe-n-Throw café manager, said the crowd was a welcomed sight after a year of enduring the business challenges of COVID-19.

“Oh, my goodness, we’ve been super busy, which is always a good thing. We love Small Business Saturday. It’s always one of our busiest days of the year,” Brown said. “I was actually worried a little bit this year that we wouldn’t have people coming in because of COVID, but we’re making drinks and food for people and everything is going very well today.”

Brown said local artisans’ unique offerings also seemed to attract customers.

“We’ve also got all kinds of local art people are picking up for Christmas presents. It’s for sure much busier than usual. We thank the community for its support and always showing up for us,” she said.

Small businesses sales traditionally benefit the communities in which they’re located. According to American Express, 67 cents of every dollar spent at a locally-owned small business stays in the community. The tax revenue generated by local sales funds many public services.

Classy Creations Florist and Crafts opened on Fairmont Avenue two months amid the pandemic in May. Owner Cheri Bennett has been pleased with the number of new customers her business has attracted, including many local residents who turned out on Small Business Saturday.

“We opened the week of Mother’s Day this year, which was right in the middle of COVID, but business is beginning to pick up,” she said.

Bennett said this weekend has been one of the best of the year thus far.

“Our Christmas open house on Friday brought in a lot of new customers. And we were fairly busy on Small Business Saturday, too. I believe people are tired of the big businesses and want to come out and support all the local businesses. We’re glad for everybody’s support here in Fairmont,” she said.

Many local businesses offered insight on how they are attempting to drive sales this holiday season, including boosting the company’s online presence and sales, implementing touchless transactions, offering free local delivery, and establishing a range of in-store safety protocols.

Sara Reel owns two businesses in Mannington, The Mustard Seed Gift Shop and Baby B’s BBQ, located next to each other in the downtown district. Throughout the pandemic, the restaurant business has fared better than the gift shop, Reel said.

“The restaurant business has been steady. The people in town have been good to us with ordering takeout. But the Mustard Seed has struggled badly. A lot of people simply aren’t going out shopping. It’s just very slow right now,” she said.

Reel said The Mustard Seed has experienced two particularity good sales weekends during COVID-plagued 2020.

“The Farmer’s Market we held in Mannington this summer was very good for business. And Small Business Saturday has been a wonderful day,” she said. “The people in this town are good to businesses when there’s a special event like this. They come out and support us.”

Among the safety approaches visible in local businesses were hand sanitizers, floor markers for social distancing and, of course, the ubiquitous presence of state-mandated face masks.

Eye Candy Beauty Supply, a downtown Fairmont salon that provides wigs, human hair, braiding hair and extensions, saw little uptick in business on Saturday, according to Sierra Hardy, who manages the front desk.

“Honestly, since COVID began it’s been kind of slow. It spikes back and forth. Sometimes, we’ll be busy, but then sometimes not so much. There are always a couple days out of a week that are pretty good days,” she said.

Hardy said Eye Candy did not see much of an increase in business on Saturday, though.

“I’ve not noticed much more business because of Small Business Saturday, actually,” she said. “But somehow I can feel it’s already starting to pick up and I know December is going to be a good month for us.”

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