For Portland resident Jeff Yorio, Small Business Saturday is more than just an annual event – it is a persistent state of mind.

Yorio is one of many Portland consumers who visited independently owned local businesses on the 10th Small Business Saturday, an annual event created in 2010 to give a holiday sales boost to mom-and-pop retailers and restaurants. Small Business Saturday is always held on the last Saturday in November, immediately following Black Friday.

But Yorio, who was browsing for holiday gifts Saturday afternoon at retailer Pinecone+Chickadee in downtown Portland, said buying from independent local businesses is a year-round practice for him. He and others said local businesses are not only important to the community, but they also offer a better shopping experience.

“We always try to patronize the local stores before we go anywhere else,” Yorio said. “It’s not that we don’t go anywhere else, but we always try to hit the stores here in town before we’ll go out to the mall or order online.”

The Small Business Saturday concept was developed by New York-based financial services firm American Express in partnership with the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit National Trust for Historic Preservation. The goal was to encourage more holiday shoppers to visit small, locally owned brick-and-mortar businesses instead of doing all their shopping at large retail chains or through e-commerce giants such as Amazon.com.

Small Business Saturday has caught on with U.S. consumers in a big way, according to the 2018 Small Business Saturday Consumer Insights Survey, produced by American Express and the National Federation of Independent Business. According to the survey’s estimates, roughly 104 million U.S. shoppers spent a record high of $17.8 billion on Small Business Saturday in 2018, up 38 percent from $12.9 billion in 2017.

“Millions of shoppers came together to show their support for small, independently owned businesses this Small Business Saturday,” Elizabeth Rutledge, chief marketing officer at American Express, said in a report on the survey’s findings. “The ‘shop small’ movement has become a national celebration – people all around the country are turning out to back the small businesses that make our neighborhoods and communities thrive.”

Yorio said there seems to be a growing awareness in Portland of the importance of buying local as a way to preserve the community’s unique mix of independent retailers and other small businesses.

“I think the people that live here – more than other places I’ve been to – keep it local, whether it’s going to the farmers market or coming to a place like (Pinecone+Chickadee) that you’re not going to find anywhere else,” he said. “If you don’t want (Portland) to change and you want it to keep that feeling, that certain personality that it has, then you have to patronize your local stores.”

Pinecone+Chickadee co-owner Noah DeFilippis agreed that consumers in Portland do a good job of supporting local businesses during the holiday shopping season, which is typically the most important time of year for retailers. He said local business organizations such as Portland Buy Local and Portland Downtown also help boost awareness of the city’s independent businesses throughout the year.

“It’s gotten a lot better than it used to be,” DeFilippis said. “I grew up around here, and I remember when (The Maine Mall) opened, and downtown (Portland) was desolate. It used to be desolate, and now it’s all coming back.”

At downtown Portland vintage and secondhand clothing store Find, worker Alma Kenow was busy keeping up with the high volume of customers on Saturday. She said people in Portland are drawn to the business because of its emphasis on inclusivity, diversity of products, good value and the fact that it gives new life to used clothing.

Kenow said Small Business Saturday and Black Friday are both important to the business, which benefits greatly from the holiday shopping season.

Portland resident Ben Floyd was at Find on Saturday looking for good deals on clothing. Floyd said he shops there often, and that it’s important for people to support local businesses in general.

“They’re not only employing local people, they offer great products, so it’s a win-win,” he said. “I’ve been shopping here for about 10 years.”

Floyd said patronage of independent local businesses benefits consumers because they can often find better value and have better experiences than they can at the big chains. He particularly likes to focus on local retailers that resell used items.

“I don’t really buy new things – I don’t see the point,” he said. “I enjoy buying and exploring and discovering things. … I kind of grew up doing this, instead of going to the mall and buying stuff that’s twice as much.”

Thomas Grant, owner of Scandinavian imports store Simply Scandinavian in Portland, said it’s a common misconception that online shopping is killing local brick-and-mortar businesses. His store, which has been in business for over two decades, has a loyal customer base that appreciates the experience of patronizing an independent local business that caters to their wants and needs, he said.

If anything, customers who may have neglected local small businesses in years past are now rediscovering them, Grant said. He said shoppers appreciate a business like his where the owner is present in the store, understands the customers and carefully curates the inventory just for them.

“You’re not getting that on Amazon,” Grant said. “You’re not getting that at Walmart or Target.”

Another Portland retailer, Longfellow Books, also was enjoying a busy day Saturday. Bookseller Colin Cundy said he thinks Mainers in general are keenly aware of the importance of buying local, but that Small Business Saturday has helped put additional emphasis on it.

“I would say there definitely seems to be something of a groundswell of people paying attention to it and trying to and trying to shop local,” Cundy said. “Maybe they’ll go out to their Targets and whatnot, and then also swing by their favorite local stores.”

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