Give Some Love To Local Businesses

EDITORIAL The Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

It's easy to get caught up in the buying frenzy that follows turkey dinners and pumpkin pie. But where you spend your dollars can make a real impact, and on Small Business Saturday -- the day after Black Friday -- think boutiques, not just big box.

Consumers recognize that Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is seen as the official start of the holiday shopping season, the day hordes of people take over stores from Best Buy to ToysRUs. But since 2010, millions of shoppers across the U.S. have participated in Shop Small on Small Business Saturday to drum up support for brick-and-mortar local businesses.

And last year, Shop Small generated $14.3 billion in sales from small businesses, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. That's huge.

During a time when big-box retailers are hyping big-screen TVs and Amazon is unveiling a dedicated Black Friday page, it's easy to miss the shop down the street selling artisan-crafted koa wood boxes or Hawaiian-print stationery.

But making the effort to shop small next Saturday -- and throughout the year -- is the right thing to do. After all, small business is the backbone of our state, with nearly 31,000 businesses that have fewer than 100 employees, state figures show.

The economy is improving, gas prices are down and consumers, even those on a budget, are poised for holiday purchasing. There has been an influx of higher-end chain retailers popping up in the new Ewa wing of Ala Moana Center and on tap for the renovated International Market Place. But for many, that's just window shopping. Homegrown diversity and locally sourced retailers and eateries should be included and supported at these developments, as well as at Ka Makana Alii, the huge Kapolei regional mall opening next year.

With rail construction affecting traffic flow along major arteries such as Farrington Highway, the Shop Small concept becomes even more relevant for businesses struggling to get foot traffic through their doors. Make the effort to patronize those hard-hit storefronts in Waipahu and Pearl City.

On Small Business Saturday, make it a point to appreciate unique and innovative homegrown products. There's no better time to "find, feel, see products you won't see if you're shopping online" or in chain stores, said SBA District Director Jane Sawyer.

In Manoa on that day, for example, a group of women-owned small businesses selling goods from doggie treats to chocolates is banding together to offer discounts and prize giveaways.

State Senate Minority Leader Sam Slom, who for years ran a nonprofit organization supporting small business, said it's important to patronize small businesses year-round, not just one day of the year. What's more, government leaders must recognize that small business owners need to be considered when assessing who could benefit from tax incentives or regulatory relief. Supportive policies and community backing are crucial if neighborhoods want to retain their sense of place and character against gargantuan retailers.

"The cost of living affects small businesses in Hawaii and it makes it extremely difficult to compete," Slom said, noting the extra care that smaller businesses must take to keep their doors open.

For consumers, making that conscious decision to grab a plate lunch from a family-run diner or tapa-print towels made by a friend's friend might change spending habits long after Small Business Saturday.

And that's a positive step toward continued support of small local businesses in the days, weeks and years to come.

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