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Celebrated each year on Saturday after Thanksgiving, Small Business Saturday is a way for consumers to kick off the busy holiday shopping season and make an impact in their community by supporting locally-owned businesses.

This year, the event will be Nov. 24.

Small Business Saturday is a local response to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, which are promoted by big box stores and online warehouses.

Small Business Saturday was founded in 2010 by American Express as a day to energize communities to support small businesses during the busy holiday shopping season and as an answer to small business owners’ needs to get more customers into their stores.

In 2011, the U.S. Small Business Administration became a co-sponsor of the event. The ongoing promotion has resulted in families and friends making a day of it with shopping and eating local.

“It is an opportunity for friends and family to make it a local kick-off-the-shopping season tradition to get out Saturday and hit the local shops,” said Brent Donnelly, deputy district director for the U.S. Small Business Administration in Helena.

Unlike Black Friday where everyone gets up early and fights crowds to shop for a bargain, this is a holiday opportunity that families and friends can make into something special.

In a more relaxed atmosphere, enjoy small business specials, drinks and snacks. Get up early and go out for breakfast, enjoy coffee. Plan your shopping list based on an area of town.

Meet up with friends for a drink and lunch. Make a business a part of your holiday by taking note that items are selected and displayed with a bit more care and with your needs in mind.

In Montana, there are about 118,315 small businesses, according to the business administration.

In Lewis and Clark County, there are 3,469 businesses and 44,938 employees that work in the county.

“This creates an employee/resident ratio of 65 employees to 100 residents according to Brian Obert, executive director of the Montana Business Assistance Connection. “That is an unusually high number. That indicates that people from outside of the county drive into the county for their jobs, which likely makes sense with Townsend, Montana City, Clancy and Boulder residents driving to Helena for work.”

In comparison, Bozeman/Gallatin County only has a ratio of 50. Broadwater County’s ratio is 26, which means that many drive out of county, and the average age of the residents is significantly older, Obert said.

“Of all the businesses in the state, 99.3 percent of them are considered small,” Donnelly said. “When you look at rural communities, all your businesses are small.”

Throughout the state, small businesses employ 244,000 employees.

“That’s a big chunk of the Montana workforce,” Donnelly said. “So supporting local businesses is a really, really big deal. It makes a big impact on the Montana economy. And small businesses, to stay in business, need customers to walk through their doors.”

Riley Johnson, Montana state director for the National Federation of Independent Business in Helena, said Montana has more “Main Streets” per capita than most states, “because there are more small towns.”

So something as simple as designing a small business shopping day, means something, Johnson said.

“People do utilize the small main street businesses on this day,” he said. “In the past, we have had small businesses comment to us that they have new people come in (to shop). It can create new business. It can create new awareness of using main street businesses. I think it does have an effect.”

He encourages small businesses to participate and promote themselves.

“We keep losing so much business to online type of stuff that you’ve got to promote yourself,” Johnson said. “This is one way of doing that.”

The Montana Small Business Administration recently toured three local Helena businesses to ask owners for their input on Small Business Saturday.

Emily Free Wilson at Free Ceramics, a pottery gallery, said the Helena community is hugely supportive of artists and in turn she is inspired to offer different and creative lines of pottery for her holiday and spring sales. She said shopping small businesses allows people to find unique and creative gift items.

Pottery created by Wilson is made with excitement and confidence. Her pieces aren’t created with the goal to sell them, she comes up with pieces she likes and shares them with others.

There are eight artists in residents and on Small Business Saturday, all of them will have the opportunity to display their work for sale.

Small Business Saturday isn’t all about shopping for others. There are businesses out there ready to offer respite. Take a break and quench a thirst, for those 21 and older, at a local brewery.

David McKeever, co-owner at Crooked Furrow Brewing, agreed that a flight of beers might be a good way to kick off the afternoon. Then, when you’re all done making your holiday purchases, make your way back to tilt up a pint of your favorite. Even better, fill a growler to take home for the evening.

As for dinner, don’t worry. Vikki Bohlmen of Dinners Done Right has that covered.

Dinners Done Right has changed up its business plan and incorporated more order-ahead options as well as made it possible for customers to pop in and grab a prepared meal to take home and pop into the oven.

Also available is a soup, salad and nacho bar for customers to serve and take to go.

“After I got out of the franchise,” Bohlmen said, “I answered the call for single-serve meals and bigger portions.”

There are four serving sizes to choose from, she said. Customers can schedule to come in and prepare the meals themselves or they can call ahead and order them to be ready for pick up.

On Small Business Saturday, all prepackaged meals in the freezer will be on sale. There are even a few select food items, all from women-owned, Made in Montana businesses, available for gift options.

By participating in small business shopping, people are contributing in a big way to their community, the owners agreed. The businesses that are in Helena are a huge part and get out and support those businesses and support their community by shopping there.

“They have a chance to not sit at home in their PJs and shop online,” Donnelly said. “Get out and get something special from their local community, they can see it, touch it smell it … before they buy it. That can make a meaningful experience for the shopper and make a meaningful experience for the community to support that.”

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City Editor

Assistant editor at the Helena Independent Record.

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