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Small Business Saturday attracts locals, visitors downtown

RALPH WILSON/Sun-Gazette Correspondent Lauren Marino, left shops with her 20 month-old daughter Violet and friend Pamela Crouse at Patinez on Saturday. Downtown Williamsport merchants enjoyed a busy shopping day on Small Business Saturday. Shops like Patinaz feature works from local artists and craftspeople and promote the Shop Small philosophy.

A sunny, but chilly day greeted shoppers out to sample the offerings of businesses in the area for Small Business Saturday yesterday.

“Shop small” and “keep it local” were the key phrases for the day as shops offered specials and members of the Williamsport Business Association offered a “Shop Small Passport” as part of a two-week promotion to encourage shoppers to rediscover the downtown area.

Jennifer Parks, owner of Avu Goldsmiths, East Church Street, and a member of the association, cited the benefits of shopping small.

“Number one, you’re actually supporting your community and the people in it. By shopping small you’re actually keeping the money you make local and that way it really does give back to the community and I feel it really does give a more robust local economy, rather than depending on larger corporations to support Williamsport,” Parks said.

Parks’s shop is filled with her own handcrafted jewelry, as well as items from local artisans and fair market products from around the world, which she said is like supporting small businesses worldwide as well as in the local community.

“We’ve got a number of really awesome small gift shops even just in that realm of things, not to mention other types of small businesses. We have a lot of nice cafes and coffee shops, as well,” she said. She noted that those types of businesses benefit from Small Business Saturday because many shoppers either begin or take a break from their shopping by finding somewhere to eat.

A shopper at Parks’s store, Joelle Wolfe, noted that heading out on Small Business Saturday is an all-day event for her.

“We do it every year,” Wolfe said, adding that she feels that “local handcrafters are seeing the benefit of seeing our dollars staying in town. Unique items as well.”

Bernie Katz, a former president of the local business association and owner of Le Chocolat with his wife Bonnie, said that the number of businesses participating in Small Business Saturday has grown since the day after Black Friday was first designated as such.

“We’ve had about 75 people (businesses) sign up,” he noted.

For the consumer, Katz and his wife believe that the greatest benefit is the personalized service.

“They get to walk around the stores and you get the service and the quality,” Bernie Katz said.

“Service,” his wife interjected, “conversation, you feel like you’re part of the community.”

“Plus it keeps money in the community. It’s not going to some big corporation,” said Bonnie Katz. “We’re paying the salaries, we’re paying the real estate,” she added.

Both Bernie and Bonnie Katz noted that many of their customers are from out of the area, either tourists, or particularly over the Thanksgiving weekend, people visiting family members for the holiday.

“They come in from all over. Tourists love shopping in downtown Williamsport because it’s so convenient, so nice, so clean. It’s a nice, clean, convenient town to shop in, so when they come through the area, they love stopping,” Bernie Katz said.

By 11:30 in the morning, Bernie Katz said that about four times as many customers as usual for a Saturday morning had visited their confectionery shop.

For Jen Cullin-Hetrick, a shopper at Patinaz, a boutique on West Fourth Street, the small businesses in the city were what drew her to shop for the second year on Small Business Saturday.

“We just really love all the small businesses in Williamsport, and being able to shop locally and support them and to be able to share what Williamsport offers with our friends and family outside of the area,” she said. Cullin-Hetrick shared that she was on the hunt for gifts that were out of the ordinary for her mother.

“It’s great for downtown, it’s great to keep it local,” said Suzette Mason, co-owner of Patinaz. “It’s a day out. I mean Christmas shopping is fun. It’s not the same as sitting in front of a computer and clicking some buttons. It’s a day out and we have so many places to shop downtown and then they can go out to lunch. It’s just a good day to be out,” she said.

Mason’s boutique offers merchandise from over 60 artisans, so, she added, “When you’re shopping here, you are making lots of small businesses happy.”

At Little Jets Boutique, Santa was paying a visit much to the delight of the children and their parents in the store.

Paula Hedrick, one of the owners of the store, said that the smaller shops offer more personalized service, a sentiment echoed by Karen Ciccarelli whose husband Francis owns The Clothier on West Fourth Street.

“I think a small business offers a personal service, which you don’t find in a lot of places,” Ciccarelli said, adding that customers sometimes need guidance in making their purchases which a smaller store can do.

She also noted that the mall doesn’t have as many stores as it used to, which has brought some increase in The Clothier’s business. Like Lee Chocolate, also benefits from out-of-town customers which visit the store as destination shoppers.

“There are a lot of stores down here, a lot more than people realize,” Ciccarelli added.

The exodus of many of the larger chain stores from the area was on the mind of Diane Hofer, a customer at Patinaz.

“We decided we needed to find out what was in downtown Williamsport because all the big stores are leaving so we’re going to have to start shopping in the small stores,” Hofer said.

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