Small Business Saturday: Shore businesses offer alternative to Black Friday mania (Asbury Park Press)

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Michael L. Diamond, @mdiamondapp

Published 5:00 a.m. ET Nov. 24, 2017 | Updated 8:58 p.m. ET Nov. 24, 2017

SPRING LAKE - Alison Maccione, the owner of Barefoot, an "athleisure" boutique on Third Avenue in Spring Lake, will spend this Saturday working her usual hours (10 a.m. to 6 p.m.) with the usual number of employees (one) and a couple of vendors she invited to the store to sell their wares.

But don't let the low-key operation fool you. It is one of the biggest days of the year.

"It's just a great opportunity to spread the word about shopping small," Maccione said. "It's just a really fun, busy weekend for me. Coming off a slow October and early November, it’s a good way to kick-start the holiday shopping season.”

Mom and pop retailers are gearing up for Small Business Saturday, an American Express-inspired promotion designed to remind consumers that they don't have to line up outside a big box store early in the morning and jostle the crowds for deals.

These days, the giant retailers aren't even their biggest competition. Consumers increasingly are buying gifts online, prompting business groups to add free parking, free breakfast and Christmas tree lightings as added incentive.

"That’s what we’re trying to provide for people, a sweet holiday experience," said Rebecca Cavanaugh, executive director for the Ocean Grove Chamber of Commerce. "It's easy to go onto Amazon and order all your Christmas presents at one shop. There’s also something about going door to door, shopping place to place to place. I think that's something that people are craving."

The idea to shop local resonates. Heather Riedel, 32, of Middletown, said she steers clear of Black Friday's crush. She visits small businesses instead, she said, to help contribute to a sense of community.

"I like to support the community," she said. "It's really important. And I feel better about myself.”

Small Business Saturday was created by American Express and the National Federation of Independent Business in 2010 in a bid to combat the Great Recession.

The economy has recovered since then; consumers nationwide are expected to spend more than $655.8 billion during the holiday season, up at least 3.6 percent from last year, the National Retail Federation said.

But retailers on Main Street face new challenges. Online shopping in the fourth quarter last year grew 14.2 percent, about three times as fast as retail overall, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Online sales remain less than 10 percent of the total, but they loom as a caution sign of trouble ahead.

Small business owner Alison Maccione prepares her shop Barefoot, an athletic leisure store in Spring Lake, for Small Business Saturday. Maccione in her shop. Spring Lake, NJ Tuesday, November 21, 2017 @dhoodhood  (Photo: Doug Hood )

"The whole industry is transforming, and it's transforming rapidly," said John Holub, president of the New Jersey Retail Merchants Association, a trade group. But brick-and- mortar stores still account for more than 90 percent of sales, so "pretty much the whole pie is still out there."

One fun fact: Small Business Saturday has yet to cut into Black Friday's grip on the holiday shopping season.

For small, independent shops in New Jersey, sales on Black Friday spike 78 percent compared with the average day, while sales on Small Business Saturday increase 66 percent, according to data from Womply, a software and data company based in San Francisco.

Still, New Jerseyans appear to embrace small retailers more than the nation; Saturday sales for small businesses increase 38 percent nationwide, according to Womply.

Either way, retailers such as Deena Elattar, the owner of Deena’s in Point Pleasant Beach, will take it.

The 5-year-old boutique probably won't be the place for door-busting flat-screen televisions, but shoppers can casually stroll in and receive discounts or free gifts with purchases.

"I feel like locally people support small businesses," Elattar said. "They do go to the Walmarts and Targets, but they still like to shop local as well."

Michael L. Diamond; @mdiamondapp; 732-643-4038; mdiamond@gannettnj.com