It's the one time of year that Brandi Hoffman of West St. Paul trades shopping at big retailers or online sites for the small boutiques and shops on Grand Avenue.
Forget enduring Black Friday campouts at electronic stores or frantic midnight sales. The Saturday after Thanksgiving is on her calendar each year for a quieter, simpler reason.
"It's Small Business Saturday. I have to go out," she said as she picked out a ballerina book for her 1- and 3-year-old daughters at St. Paul's Red Balloon Bookshop. "Normally I wouldn't be shopping like this, but it's a special occasion."
That's exactly what the third annual Small Business Saturday aims to do, wedged between the frazzled Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales in hopes of enticing consumers to dine, drink and shop local during the holiday season. And this year, it drew more customers and businesses like Red Balloon.
"It seems to be getting more momentum," said owner Holly Weinkauf of St. Paul, who participated for the first year. "It's nice to have a day where people are talking about the small local businesses."
Three years ago, American Express started the event, offering rewards to credit card customers who shopped locally. The company expected turnout to surpass last year's more than 100 million shoppers.
In the Twin Cities, Mary Hamel said the extra attention is extending beyond the holiday season.
As the executive director of St. Paul-based advocacy group Metro IBA (Independent Business Alliance), Hamel said she's seeing more locally owned businesses sprout up each year and more consumers choosing them over mega retailers. In the last four years, the group's membership has quadrupled, while nationwide the number of groups like Hamel's has risen from 30 to 84. "We see it increase year after year," she said.
According to the group, for every $1 spent at a local independent store, an average of 68 cents goes back into the local economy -- more than the 43 cents for $1 spent at a national chain. For the customer, Hamel said, the benefits are all the intangibles -- the shop owner greeting you by name or the salesperson going above and beyond to help.
"You're not going to get that kind of service at a big box," she said.
In Excelsior, Connie Frederick's accessories store, Ooh La La, was buzzing with customers. Each year, she said, business grows nearly 40 percent that day. "We have unique things no one else carries," she said.
In Minneapolis, Electric Fetus customers like Pat Eckblad of Eden Prairie scouted for unique toys.
"We're not Black Friday people," she said as she shopped after eating at a nearby local restaurant.
People like Electric Fetus owner Aaron Meyerring of Minneapolis are hopeful about the attention on small businesses. Meyerring, who owns the record and gift store with his wife and father-in-law, also shopped Saturday to get $25 back that American Express paid customers who spent at least $25.
"When everybody's talking about door busters and Black Friday," he said, "today's the best deal of them all -- it's free."
Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141; Twitter: @kellystrib