Realizing there is strength in numbers, more small businesses are banding together in neighborhoods and downtowns to attract shoppers on Small Business Saturday.

Retailers are bringing back the art of store window displays and holiday lights in the North Loop, conducting a tree lighting to culminate afternoon activities at 50th and France in Edina and a Christkindlmarket three-day festival in downtown Excelsior.

"We can walk around, see what appeals to us in the store windows and stop in boutiques or coffee shops," said Chris Bray of Minneapolis as she left Parc boutique in the North Loop on Friday with her daughter, who was home for Thanksgiving weekend. "Black Friday, Small Business Saturday — it's a chance for a family outing."

This is the ninth year for Small Business Saturday, which was created to help small businesses attract more customers. Awareness of the "buy local" movement has expanded each year as small businesses find new ways to attract holiday shoppers.

"When you encourage local customers to support small business, it reinforces the value of the community and small businesses supporting each other," said Nicole Leinbach Reyhle, Small Business Saturday spokeswoman at American Express.

Five years ago, about a dozen shops and restaurants in Minneapolis' North Loop neighborhood banded together. That number has more than doubled this year for the new North Loop Lights event.

It features businesses that are hearkening back to days when store windows dazzled customers to enter a store. Martin Patrick 3, with windows as inviting as the ones in the former Dayton's downtown, created a naughty and nice theme with impeccably outfitted mannequins wearing white or black wings and crowns, drinking martinis and playing electric guitar.

"Seeing a growing number of participating retailers adds solidarity to the neighborhood," said Greg Walsh, co-owner of Martin Patrick.

Marie Dwyer, co-owner of Cooks of Crocus Hill, which has three Twin Cities locations, recently expanded her North Loop store with oversized windows currently themed "Toast," "Give" and "Get."

"It's fun to go back to old retailing and create excitement through display," she said. "It makes shopping fun. We need more of that now."

Dwyer's store also is offering cooking demonstrations, hot cider and a gift with any purchase.

Most small businesses can't offer the same level of discounts as big-box retailers due to lower volume and a lack of advertising subsidies from manufacturers, but storewide 20 percent off sales are not unusual for the annual event one day after Black Friday each year.

Small retailers make up for the lack of big doorbusters by treating a visit as a homecoming, said Bill Damberg, owner of Brightwater Clothing & Gear in downtown Excelsior.

"There's a celebratory feeling with our German Christmas market, a small parade and Father Christmas," he said of the four blocks at the heart of Excelsior's downtown.

Independent retailers are hoping milder weather in the Twin Cities will encourage customers to venture out to their own neighborhood retailers and then hopefully take a stroll in one of the more well-known shopping neighborhoods. Think downtown Anoka, Excelsior, Wayzata or White Bear Lake. Or the neighborhoods of 50th and France in Edina, 48th and Chicago and Uptown in Minneapolis and Highland Park and Grand Avenue in St. Paul.

Grand Avenue is extending its holiday kickoff into next Saturday with Santa, carolers and a classic trolley along the business district's 20-plus blocks for the annual Grand Meander.

The spirit of Small Business Saturday centers around a camaraderie of shoppers congregating in neighborhood businesses, but many small shops now nod to their online customers as well. More than half of consumers are expected to seek out small retailers' websites on Saturday or Cyber Monday, according to American Express.

Ilana Fromer of Minneapolis said she preferred the easy home delivery of a car seat she ordered at on Friday morning. She later went to the North Loop Pacifier store to pick up items for her 1-year-old and a baby on the way.

"There's plenty for the kids to do while we shop," she said. "Saturday night, we'll come back to look at the lights."

For small shops without online sales, the American Independent Business Association has started Cider Monday to promote an alternative to Cyber Monday. Many bookstores have embraced the concept in previous years, but local bookstore Magers & Quinn in Uptown wants to hedge a bit by still offering discounts online on Monday.

"People appreciate the cider, but they seem to like the discount a little more," said Annie Metcalf, store manager.

Dean Sidelinger of Portland, Ore., in the Twin Cities for Thanksgiving, said the appeal of Small Business Saturday is finding something different.

"Neighborhoods have different brands you don't see everywhere else," he said Friday. "It's a break from the chains."