By Matt Buedel
Journal Star, Peoria, Ill.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) The Saturday after Thanksgiving is now recognized as a day to celebrate small businesses that together have an outsized economic effect.
If Black Friday belongs to big box conglomerates and the steep discounts they can sacrifice to create customer stampedes, then consider the following day a natural corollary: Small Business Saturday.
Christened in 2010, perhaps ironically by a big name like American Express, the Saturday after Thanksgiving has come to be championed as a celebration of the countless small businesses that together have an outsized economic effect.
According to the 2015 Small Business Saturday Consumer Insights Survey, 95 million consumers spent an estimated $16.2 billion at independent retailers and restaurants on the singular Saturday that year.
And the U.S. Small Business Administration found in 2014 that small businesses accounted for 63 percent of net newly created private sector jobs, representing 99.7 percent of firms with paid employees.
But area officials earlier this week urged regional residents to look beyond those types of big picture figures to the most immediate impact of patronizing locally owned businesses.
The Peoria County Sheriff’s Office alone derives a double-digit percentage of its annual budget from local sales tax, Sheriff Brian Asbell noted. Online orders may be convenient, he said, but local purchases pay deputies to protect doorsteps where packages are delivered.
Yet precisely that local sales tax revenue stream is diminishing the fastest in city coffers, Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis added, a phenomenon compounded by the reality that Internet shoppers don’t incidentally buy gas or food as they visit online stores.
The complex marketplace has made for a competitive atmosphere among retailers in this traditional gift-buying season, and for a few local business owners, prosperity depends on passion, commitment and niche product lines.
Joann Smiley and her husband, Glen, immersed themselves in the world of antiques for years before opening a brick-and-mortar location in Sunnyland a few years ago.
And now that Homestead Antiques has established itself with a permanent location at 2407 Washington Road, the family has expanded into the business, too: 10-year-old granddaughter Sophia is a regular presence at the store.
“It’s always been my dream to try this,” Smiley said. “I was 57 years old, and so I just decided if I ever was going to do this, the time is now. So I took the plunge.”
Turning a trade-show mentality into a viable business plan at a standalone store was no simple feat. The learning curve was steep, and more than just academic.
“I really had to overcome my fear of just doing it,” Smiley said. “I’ve learned so many things and met so many people, so it’s something I’ll never regret.”
With Tiffany lamps, vintage advertisements and quality costume jewelry, among a wide assortment of other antiques, Smiley saw the evolution of her business from trade show tables to a permanent store as a way to stay involved in the antiques industry.
“My hope is that we stay in business, and that people remember us as a really nice place to come and find something unique,” Smiley said.
The Hayloft Shops
Rebecca Schotthofer’s mom, JoAnn, always wanted to own a gift shop. She probably never imagined all the different directions her store would spread when it first opened in Mossville 47 years ago.
The mother-daughter partnership has blossomed into a complex on Old Galena Road that features one-of-a-kind gifts and personally designed Christmas tree ornaments, women’s clothing and gourmet food items — some items hand made or created from family recipes, others sourced internationally from contacts made while traveling overseas.
The mix of carefully curated crafts an fashion has earned the shops national recognition from gift industry associations several times over the years — a five-time national award winner for promotions and displays, to be precise.
“We’re proud of that, because we’re up against department stores and anything in North America,” Schotthofer said. “People come in and say this is the best-kept secret. We’re a destination, you just have to come to us.”
“One of our advantages after being in business for so many years is people can come to us and know exactly what they’re getting,” Schotthofer said.
“We’ve seen lots of changes. When we started, there weren’t all the big box stores, the Internet, the discount stores,” she added. “But there’s a swing back to people wanting personal attention, and someone who’s knowledgeable.”
And though customers can find international wares — women’s apparel from Austria, linens from Belgium, Russian woodcarvings, German smokers, English tea — some of the best selling items have been homemade.
For the last 27 years, the top seller in the gourmet shop has been the family’s formula of garlic and herb sea salt, a product now being stocked beyond the state’s borders. And their mulling spices consistently rank near the top.
“That’s something I’d really like to expand on, because gourmet food items are big,” Schotthofer said. “There’s just niches like that — and we find them out there.”
The Moser name these days is only in the sign above the store, but owner Steve Fawley nevertheless represents the fourth generation of his family to work with footwear out of the same South Peoria location.
Since 1918 — that’s 99 years, for anyone keeping count — Moser’s Shoes has offered a variety of shoe services from virtually the same location in the 2000 block of Southwest Adams Street.
“We actually were right next door to this building,” Fawley said, the timeworn explanation plain in his voice. “My dad is 92, and he remembers moving shoes into this location when he was a kid.”
The business started as shoe cobbler and eventually moved strictly into retail sales. As with countless other businesses competing against bigger rivals today, specialties have proven critical to survival.
For Moser’s Shoes, those specialties include boots made for industrial applications — the steel-toe and heavily covered boots needed by workers on the floor at Caterpillar factories, for example — and lighter, wider shoes needed by people with certain medical conditions.
“We have to keep changing, that’s why we do more of the safety toe business,” Fawley said. “A lot of those guys have to be fitted up, so you can’t just buy those over the Internet, because they have to fit right.”
And that need has led to two types of relationships at Moser’s Shoes: one with customers who have certain needs, and another with manufacturers of high-quality brands that have been in business as long or longer than the nearly century-old store.
“The brands we have, we feel comfortable with, and they’ve been good to us for many, many years,” Fawley said.
“When you go to a shoe show, there is a lot of junk on the market. Our customers want quality, and that’s what we give them.”
Fawley added: “Taking care of our customers, that’s what we do. It all comes back to customer service.”