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The days after the Thanksgiving feast feel like a perfect time for hibernation or doing some strenuous activity dressed in buckskin and pretending to be the main character in the "The Revenant."

But the call of the wild pulls many out into the cold days after to search for sales and gifts.

Black Friday is the most well known retail holiday, but the day after is one of the most important for small businesses throughout the nation and especially in Helena. Called Shop Small and promoted by American Express, Small Business Saturday is when people are encouraged to get out and find the small businesses that make their communities run.

In Helena those businesses could be found all over the city, from Just Tapped to Cobblestone Clothing to Montana Book and Toy Company to Herb and Garden to 1+1=1 Gallery.

Downtown seemed quiet Saturday morning with a few people walking and plenty of parking spaces until you walked into a store and were knocked back by a crush of Christmas shoppers contributing to keeping Helena run locally.

Montana Book and Toy Company was packed with families, children asking for squishable stuffed animals, science kits, books and an assortments of toys that fill the store.

Pam Sommer, the manager of Montana Book and Toy, saw the crowds as a side effect of Shop Small and the store’s commitment to curating the best items for customers.

“We’re seeing a lot of new faces, people from out of town,” Sommer said as the crowd circulated in the store. “They’re getting ideas for gifts now.”

“It’s getting new people into the store, and the money they spend stays in Helena,” Sommer said. “We provide donations to the community throughout the year” with that support, giving back what they take in.

Bringing people into the stores is one of the most important aspects of Shop Small. At the 1+1=1 Gallery, Maureen Shaugnessy used American Express’ banners and other Shop Small gear to advertise the gallery’s commitment to the day.

“Downtown needs to be a vital place,” Shaughnessy said. “Downtowns are super important, and I can’t imagine living in a place without a concentrated area of local businesses.”

Shaughnessy is using the days after Thanksgiving to launch the gallery’s annual art show that runs until after the Christmas season finishes. The gallery is filled with local works and pieces by Shaughnessy and her son, Gabe and range from multimedia to prints to ceramics.

“I’m telling people to come downtown,” Shaughnessy said. “Be here and let us know you appreciate us, just by being here.”

The Herb and Garden is right next door to 1+1 and owner Cindi Hanson sees Small Business Saturday as a boon to her business as well because people are coming in and showing their support.

“People return,” Hanson said. A longtime Helena resident, Hanson’s shop does most of its sales in fresh-cut flowers and plants with an uptick in Carroll College students coming in to buy succulents.

For people to return, they have to be out, and on Saturday that was the story. 


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