20201130-LOC-small biz saturday

Photos by Mia Summerson / Sentinel Staff

Though Main Street may not have been quite as busy this year as previous post-Thanksgiving shopping weekends, downtown retailers say support for shopping small remains strong.

The weekend after Thanksgiving, consisting of Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and a promotion unique to the region called Plaid Friday, organized by the The Local Crowd Monadnock, is often one of the biggest sales periods for small businesses like those found on Keene’s Main Street. And while the COVID-19 pandemic has more people choosing to stay at home this year, business owners and employees said Saturday they’ve still had a decent weekend.

“A lot of times for small businesses — and I’ve worked for other small businesses downtown — it’s like the one day a year that they make the most money that sets them [up] for their off-seasons when they don’t make any money,” said Isabella Delong, an employee at Synergy on Main Street. “So the holiday season, especially Black Friday, that’s the most important day of the year for a lot of small businesses.”

Though the weather was in the high 40s and sunny, aside from a few moments of spotty precipitation, downtown Keene was decked out for the winter holiday season, with the Central Square Christmas tree front and center. But the sidewalks were less crowded than in previous years.

Delong and another Synergy employee, Melanie Dourdounas, said that business had been steady since Thanksgiving, with decent turnouts both Friday and Saturday, though the shop wasn’t nearly as busy as it had been in 2019.

Other businesses reported similar experiences. Sonya Blake, who works at Beeze Tees, said she saw a steady influx of customers on Saturday, but she feels that the pandemic has slowed things down a bit.

She said she’d encourage people to continue to support local businesses, saying that purchasing gifts at such a store provides a sentimental alternative to shopping at big-box stores.

Pandemic challenges

The year 2020 has been hard for small businesses. In late March, Gov. Chris Sununu’s stay-at-home order required any business deemed non-essential, including many small retail shops, to suspend in-person operations. When they were permitted to reopen later in the spring, heavy restrictions required businesses to lower their customer capacity and implement mandatory mask wearing, social distancing and stringent cleaning policies.

Delong and Dourdounas said one way businesses, including Synergy, are keeping customers spread out is to continue sales discounts for a longer period of time. Synergy is having a 20 percent off sale, and other stores are offering deals of their own.

“Everybody waits for Black Friday for those sales,” Dourdounas said. “I feel like this year, a lot of stores have just extended it throughout the whole week.”

“A lot of stores have been trying to extend their Black Friday sales so that not everyone is coming in all in one day,” Delong added.

While those who were out shopping on Saturday included a mix of holiday and regular shoppers, in general they said it’s important to support small businesses, pandemic or no. One of them, Kathy Twombly, who was browsing at Synergy, said she thinks it’s important to help these small retailers keep their doors open.

“We have enough stores that are already shut down and empty in Keene,” she said.

Brandie Wells, owner of Soul Emporium, said that while Small Business Saturday might be the major local shopping event in other communities, Plaid Friday is the big occasion in Keene. And she noted Saturday that the Plaid Friday enthusiasm continued to spill into the remainder of the weekend and that the pandemic didn’t seem to be slowing things down too much.

“Yesterday was a wonderful day, but it’s been a nice, steady, respectful flow,” she said. “Saturdays are typically great downtown, because people are out, but today’s been nice.”

Mia Summerson can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1435, or msummerson@keenesentinel.com. Follow her on Twitter @MiaSummerson