Small Business Saturday is an initiative launched by finance giant American Express 10 years ago this year. (Credit: PXFuel)

The holiday shopping season is upon us — as is Small Business Saturday.

Small Business Saturday is an initiative launched by finance giant American Express 10 years ago, when Americans were reeling from a different financial crisis: the 2008 recession. In a bid to aid in the country’s financial recovery, the credit card company encouraged shoppers to visit their nearest Main Streets and support local vendors. It was an immediate hit, garnering praise from shoppers, small firm owners, and even then-President Barack Obama.

According to a recent impact study conducted by American Express and Pay It Forward on the initiative, it’s remained popular ever since. Over the course of the past 10 years, Americans have spent an estimated $120 billion at local stores on Small Business Saturdays. In 2019 alone, people plunked down $19.6 billion on the shopping holiday. 

[Related: How to Prepare Your Small Business for the Holiday Rush]

Research also indicated that 75 percent of shoppers polled will intentionally solicit small businesses this year — many of them stating they wish to keep small firms afloat amid the coronavirus crisis

Ali Rose owns one such small firm. She’s the founder of Genusee, a glasses maker based in Flint, Michigan, that makes its frames from recycled plastic bottles — a readily available material in a city plagued by an ongoing water crisis.

Ali Rose, founder and owner of Genusee in Flint, Michigan. (Credit: Genusee)

She told us her entire supply chain is located within a 180-mile radius of the city, which means that initiatives like Small Business Saturday don’t “just impact us internally — it impacts local third-party partners and vendors. Success means also being able to support them, to continue to see their local small business be successful, too.”

Hers is a young business that began off of a Kickstarter campaign launched in February 2018. It pulled in nearly $75,000, blowing past its $50,000 goal, and began to grow quickly. 

But at the start of the pandemic, “I wasn’t sure we were going to survive, to be honest,” she says. Her plans radically changed — when 2020 started, her big plan for the year was getting into a wholesale operation. The coronavirus crisis inspired her to shift her focus to the e-commerce and direct-to-consumer parts of her business. She also rolled out products and services that speak to the Covid-19 shopper, like fog-free lenses and virtual try-on capabilities. 

It was a savvy move — “we have seen considerable growth,” Rose reports. For example, what was a team of three at the start of the pandemic is now a team of 12. And e-commerce sales, so far in the fourth quarter, are up three times from where they were at this same point last year. 

[Related: Hiring For The Holidays: What Small Business Owners Need To Know]

For Genusee, Small Business Saturday is less about “the heavy discounting a lot of people associate with Black Friday and Cyber Monday” and more about “amplifying the ‘shop small’ message.” 

Of the people polled in the impact study on Small Business Saturday, 88 percent said they felt a sense of personal responsibility to support small firms and their owners. The ones that are still operating may need that boost to avoid closing for good — recent data from business review site Yelp indicates that 60 percent of businesses that intended to close temporarily due to Covid-19 won’t reopen.

And shoppers care about that, Rose notes. “We’re rooted in sustainability and social justice — this year more than ever, customers are caring about that,” she says. “People really want to shop with their values in mind, and are taking time to” find businesses whose practices and messaging align with shoppers’ principles.

[Related: Why You Should Participate in Small Business Saturday]