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Downtown Wilkes-Barre putting big push behind small business promotion

i Oct 23rd 2015

By Ron Bartizek, The Times Leader

WILKES-BARRE – Downtown boosters are teaming with the F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts to make the most of a sales promotion that showcases independent shops at a time when major retailers’ advertising draws frenzied shoppers to malls, big-box stores and websites.

“This will be our third year doing an organized Small Business Saturday effort in downtown Wilkes-Barre,” said Larry Newman, executive director of Diamond City Partnership, which helps promotes business activity. But this one will be different, he said.

“We’re trying to position this as being an event day in downtown … larger than the individual discounts or promotions retailers may offer,” Newman said. “It’s time to do that and really step on the gas.”

To that end, the promotion that takes place Nov. 28 will join with the Kirby Center’s Winter Wonderland, featuring holiday movies, a tree-lighting and an indoor arts and crafts marketplace.

Anne Rodella, director of marketing at the Kirby Center, said the combination is a natural fit.

“The Kirby is friends with many of our downtown small business partners,” Rodella said. “I love the personal touch small business adds, and I like to see the money go back into the community I live in.”

The theater will show three holiday films through the day – “Elf,” “Miracle on 34th Street” and “Christmas Vacation” – and will host an art market in the lobby. Rodella is putting together a map that will show the participating businesses and their special offers.

Sandwiched between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Small Business Saturday was created in 2010 by American Express, a brand often associated with big-spending corporate travelers. But small business has long been a focus, said Nicole Leinbach Reyhle, an American Express spokesperson.

The company’s Open Card has been around for more than 25 years, and “its mission is to help the small business community do their business,” Reyhle said. “(American Express) really has a very rich history of supporting small business.”

Merchants do not have to accept American Express cards, which cost stores more in fees than other cards, to participate in Small Business Saturday, and promotional materials and ideas are available free at a website dedicated to the event.

Last year 88 million customers showed up at small stores across the nation, Reyhle said. “We anticipate this year that it will be even greater,” as the event gets more recognition.

As it has in the past, American Express will support the promotion with a significant advertising commitment, an effort that last year earned a spot in the top 15 ad campaigns of the 21st century chosen by Advertising Age magazine.

Newman said about a dozen downtown businesses have participated in past years, a number he’s hoping will grow with the scope of the promotion.

While getting more traffic into downtown shops is one goal of the event, another is raising awareness of the value of independent businesses to consumers and the community at large.

“It’s not just about the day itself, it’s also about reminding people in the community of the value small businesses provide to our economy 365 days of the year,” Newman said.

Around Town Bicycles has participated in Small Business Saturday for several years, said Tom Jones, a co-owner of the business off North Main Street. While not a major promotion for the shop that shies away from selling the cheap children’s bikes often found under Christmas trees, he said the effort has been worthwhile.

“We get a small bump from it,” Jones said. More importantly, “people mention it, so we know they’re aware of it. By now a lot of people are familiar with it and make a concerted effort to support the local merchant.”

Jones said he takes advantage of the promotional materials and tips available online, and ties in specials for the entire weekend

While downtown organizations are making a coordinated effort for Small Business Saturday, any small business can participate and take advantage of the free help that’s offered at www.shopsmall.com.