BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — This marks the 10th anniversary of the first Small Business Saturday, an increasingly important kickoff to the holiday shopping season that focuses on mom and pop retailers across the country.
The special day of commerce has become a big deal here in Kern County, where’s it’s known as Shop Local Saturday — but perhaps never more so than this year. As any small business owner in the U.S. will tell you — the freedom of running a local, independent operation can be rewarding but the challenges are many and the mortality rate daunting.
And that’s in a “normal” year. Nothing normal about 2020.
In this consumer-driven economy, a healthy retail environment is everything. It means quality of life, it means tax base, it means social safety net, and more than anything it means jobs and prosperity.
Corporate America grows stronger every day — just look at the Dow Jones, hitting 30,000 for the first time ever last week. But small, locally owned business doesn’t always share in that bounty. They compete against the big boys — with their name brands and national advertising budgets — in additional to the burden of taxes and regulation, local, state and federal.
Little wonder the mortality rate among small business startups is an astounding 30 percent after two years and 50 percent after five. Recognition of those challenges prompted American Express, the credit card company, to promote the first Small Business Saturday in late November 2010.
The following year it became official when governors, mayors, senators and President Barack Obama jumped on board. In the decade that followed, consumers have spent $120 billion on Small Business Saturday alone. Encouraging — until now.
The Covid-19 pandemic has devastated local economies, shuttered businesses and cost millions their jobs.
Kern County is one of 45 California counties in the purple or most restrictive tier. Many of the surviving businesses have been pushed literally out into the cold.
It’s been difficult for companies of all sizes but particularly tough on small locally owned businesses because their profit margins — and margins of error — tend to be smaller.
Chuck Arias, a vendor at Downtown Toys & Comics, where they’ll be requiring masks and hosting a sidewalk sale, says the in-person shopping experience can’t really be duplicated.
“You come in here, this is probably the only place you’re going to find a life sized, actual replica of a Thundercat sword,” he said. “So that’s the type of stuff we carry that you will never find in any other type of retail (store.)”
Kelly Bearden of CSU Bakersfield’s Small Business Development Center, says this holiday season could make or break some small Kern County businesses.
“It’s really a crucial time of year, with the holiday season coming — and that’s really the importance of Small Business Saturday,” he said. “… For so many this is really the time of year that really gets them through some really dry months.”
If it sounds like some of these small business owner are acting like they’re in a life or death struggle, it’s because — in many ways, they are.
If you’re concerned about shopping in the midst of a pandemic — and you should be — remember that most of your favorite restaurants offer outdoor dining, takeout or delivery, and many other types of local businesses offer shipping, curbside pickup — or sidewalk sales.
Call and ask. Because we’re not just Christmas shopping, we’re protecting local jobs.