Focus on Claremont small business

‘Tis the season for small business, or so it would seem for the mom-and-pop shops of the Claremont Village as holiday shopping kicked off in full force last weekend.

Throngs of holiday shoppers bustled with shopping bags in tow, proving the crowds don’t just take to the malls for the busiest shopping time of the year. It’s a happy sign of the times and a hopeful start to the season, says Jeena Sousa, manager at Raku, a boutique shop off Yale Avenue.

“People like to have a choice instead of just running to their local Target or Walmart,” Ms. Sousa said. “They want to do something that feels positive instead of the typical Black Friday shopping.”

Ms. Sousa credits part of the boom to the successful marketing of Small Business Saturday, a Black Friday-esque promotion now in its third year. Started by American Express in 2010, Small Business Saturday began as a way to get shoppers to ditch the big box and e-commerce stores in favor of holiday shopping at local “brick and mortar businesses.”

The promotion caught on, drawing attention with the use of social media and incentives bestowed upon mom-and-pop customers. An estimated $103 million was spent as part of last year’s Small Business Saturday as shoppers ditched the typical day-after-Thanksgiving mad dash for local options. While a total has yet to be reported for 2012, a reported 500,000 businesses nationwide participated in this year’s campaign.

While in years past Ms. Sousa says her eclectic, small-town boutique store has seen a surge in customers during the busy holiday season, this year’s sales have reached a new level. Though she has not yet received a total on last weekend’s numbers, Ms. Sousa feels optimistic about the outcome based on the foot traffic and the sheer knowledge that people seem to now have about the small business campaign.

“This year, we had people coming in on Friday and 3 different people called to ask about our Small Business Saturday promotions,” Ms. Sousa said. “There is a definite reaction to this campaign.”

Rhino Records down the street used the campaign to its advantage, promoting a slew of discounts to holiday shoppers. They reaped the rewards, as the store was crammed with customers all weekend, according to General Manager Dennis Callaci.

“This felt like the first year the message really got out there,” said Mr. Callaci of the newspaper, radio and other advertisements for Small Business Saturday.

In general, Mr. Callaci says the longtime Claremont record store, which has fought off hard times in recent years, has seen a surge in the past 18 months.

“You read reports about how money spent at a local shop stays in that city versus shopping at a big box and how little stays. It seems people in general are more hip to that,” he said.“People who live in Claremont try to spend their money here and we have been truly blessed with that support.”

Joanne Crombie, salesperson at Claremont Village Treasures, also noted the recent surge in business, due in part, she believes, to the home decor boutique’s new location. Since moving from First Street to Yale, the shop has seen an overwhelming improvement, she said, and their holiday shopping experience benefited as a result. Sales for one individual alone totaled near $600, she said.

“At one point it was almost too much to handle. We had 3 people working and could have used a fourth,” she said. “We saw considerably more traffic.”

While Ms. Crombie says Village events like the Wine Walk have really helped drive in business to town, fellow shop owners also credit the Village’s eclectic spirit.

“People here seem to have a sense of pride in the stores around here and the choices,” Ms. Sousa said. “Claremont’s downtown has so much available. A lot of cities don’t have the kind of access we have here.”

—Beth Hartnett


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