The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

November 24, 2012

Small businesses step out of Black Friday's shadow today

— NEW YORK (AP) — After the crowds have shopped at large stores and sprawling malls on Black Friday, many smaller businesses are hoping today will be their day.

Thousands of small stores, restaurants, spas — and even dry cleaners — across the U.S. will offer their own discounts and promotions to draw holiday shoppers on what's known as Small Business Saturday.

American Express created the day three years ago, it says, to help small businesses struggling during the recession. The credit and charge card company encourages cardholders, who have registered in advance online to make purchases with their cards in exchange for a $25 rebate paid for by American Express, if they buy something at a participating business. American Express won't say how much the promotion costs, but Susan Sobbott, president of American Express OPEN, the company's small business division, says it is a considerable amount.

But even small merchants who aren't officially part of the event hope to get a bump in revenue during a weekend when they used to be all but forgotten in an avalanche of deep discounts offered by big stores and online retailers. Perhaps more importantly, the day has become an opportunity for small businesses to build a corps of customers who will keep coming back year-round.

In Dixon, Ill., 51 small businesses have banded together to recruit local artists and performers to create a party-like atmosphere on Saturday, and they're also planning other events for the holiday season. A year ago, the combination of the American Express rebate and the events helped give the participating businesses a collective revenue increase of more than 50 percent on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, says Lisa Higby, owner of Distinctive Gardens, a nursery and garden center there. But the benefit goes beyond a one-day jolt.

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