By Craig Marx, Editor
Originating in 2010, Small Business Saturday falls the day after the infamous “Black Friday,” the day where consumers nationwide line up at dawn to take advantage of large scale retailers’ discount holiday sales and promotions. Focusing on shopping local and the positive community impact to be had from patronizing area businesses, Small Business Saturday is an important reminder of what the Antigo area can both gain and learn from its local retailers, shops and restaurants.
When one looks at the downtown area of small Northwoods cities such as Antigo, the storefronts of these quaint Main Streets are often closed, worn down or even in total disrepair. Big box stores have the marketing, logistics and demand to often times deter ambitious local owners from opening small businesses, but for those who offer local services to the community, the positive impact is two-fold.
Jim Justman of Antigo Country Store agrees.Shopping locally connects you to the community in a completely different way from a big box or big commercial store,” Kelly Keyser-Millar, owner of Mortar and Pestle in Antigo, said. “Knowing who made your [product] is the key to feeling like they care. As a patron I appreciate knowing that someone is choosing items specific to the area or the customer base in the area. It feels far more intimate, you create relationships and know these owners. As a store owner, quite frankly this helps me in every way.”
“People often compare the prices with these big box stores. When people shop locally, they can get more personal service and [the owners] offer far more research behind their products. A person can come into my store, receive the best quality service and be on their way before they would even be walking in from the parking lot of a bigger store,” Justman said.
While larger corporate stores do offer a variety of services for shoppers, the personalized service and specialization of local owners ensures that customers come first. In a town such as Antigo, where the population is slowly declining amongst younger demographics, the dedication of local owners is paramount to maintaining a local identity. The opportunity to provide for the community on a personal basis encapsulates the ideals of Small Business Saturday.
“It is my livelihood, my passion and I deliberately chose this time and this place to make a go of this,” Keyser-Millar added. “As a business owner I want the community to know I care about what they go home with and want them to know I appreciate not just their buying power but their interest. I have worked with other businesses on 5th Avenue and elsewhere to make sure people know there are fun things to find all over town. I am working with the tattoo shop on a possible aftercare product, I send people to other businesses and I’m trying to encourage other Instagram users to use #shopantigofirst to get that hashtag circulating.”
As the marketing and advertising departments of larger commercial stores work round the clock on seemingly unlimited budgets to promote their enormous variety of products and services, local owners must take it upon themselves to hear feedback from the community and promote their businesses based on what their neighborly clientele either need or recommend.
While Small Business Saturday is often associated with more retail-oriented local endeavors, Sue Stanton of Fifth Avenue Restaurant and Lounge sites the feedback and motivation she receives from the community as one of her main reasons for running a successful local eatery.
“The community is the backbone of my business and means everything to me in providing feedback on new menu items and drinks to the promotion of local sports and activities. We have great support from our local school district and really means a lot to me as an owner,” Stanton said.
While Antigo’s downtown may seem desolate at times, there are opportunities available for ambitious new owners to take advantage, such as entrepreneurial grants from the Langlade County Economic Development Corporation or assistance and cooperation from the Antigo City Council. Even just by interacting with locals on a daily basis can help young owners get a grasp of opening a new business in the Antigo area.
“The Langlade County Business Development department was incredibly helpful with giving me the entrepreneur grant and with just the simple ear to bounce ideas around. The Antigo Farmer’s Market was a great space for me to meet people, learn about their needs and what they liked and didn’t like from a product and pricing perspective. I met so many amazing people who have become customers [in my new store],” Keyser-Millar explained.
“I think it is time that the downtown businesses start coming together to pool resources,” Mortar and Pestle’s new owner continued. “It would be helpful to know what everyone’s strong points are and play to those strengths. Social media can be incredibly helpful to us as well. Engaging with our customers with social media campaigns, contests and discounts for using hashtags can involve the community and draw them to downtown. It is time the city, businesses and community organizations start working together to finally focus some human and fiscal resources to downtown.”
Small Business Saturday should not be held to a once a year standard. People of the Antigo area have the opportunity to patronize many great, local businesses and the owners that have taken their time to elaborate on how much they both support the community and cherish their business represent only a handful of what Langlade County has to offer. Shopping locally is a win-win situation for all parties involved.