If you paid attention to half of the political messaging happening across Montana in the last couple of years, there’s a statement you’ve probably heard from politicians on both sides of the aisle: Small businesses are the backbone of our American economy.
It’s easy for folks in the Flathead Valley to believe this idea on face value — just take a walk down any of the main streets in any town in Northwest Montana, and you’ll find unique businesses with treasures you might not find anywhere else.
And on Nov. 24, shoppers and business owners in the Flathead, Mission, and Tobacco valleys plan to celebrate these integral pieces of our economy through Small Business Saturday.
“The small businesses are the businesses that make our Northwest Montana home unique,” Kate Lufkin, marketing and communications manager at the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce, said.
From Eureka to Polson and everywhere in between, the small businesses of Northwest Montana are ready for shoppers, with special holiday deals and perks available in stores and at the various chambers of commerce.
“The first 100 people through our door at 10 a.m. will get a shopping tote filled with coupons and promos and gifts, and more than half will have gift cards to local small businesses,” Lufkin said of the Kalispell chamber. “Last year we had a line of people around the building by 9:30.”
The Kalispell chamber will also have coffee available, and the DJs from The Monster 103.9 FM and The Lake 94.3 FM will be spinning tunes live from the chamber as well.
But Lufkin said for shoppers to have the most success, they should travel outside their regular stomping grounds and see what the other small businesses in the valley have to offer.
“We want to encourage people to shop all over the valley, not necessarily just stay in the town you live in, but rather to explore,” she said. “Everywhere is different, and there are unique opportunities you won’t find anywhere else.”
The valley-wide coordinated effort includes chambers and organizations and businesses in Kalispell, Whitefish, Columbia Falls, Evergreen, Bigfork, Lakeside and Somers, Eureka, Polson, and more.
“Each town does its own thing,” Lufkin said.
Small businesses — defined as those with fewer than 500 employees — comprise more than 99.9 percent of all firms across the country, and 99.7 of firms with paid employees, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. These businesses also employ nearly half of the country’s private-sector employees, about 59 million out of 124 million employees. Small businesses also make up about 41 percent of the country’s private-sector payroll.
Holiday shopping is an important piece of many businesses’ bottom lines for the year, with shoppers providing a huge boost in the final quarter of the year. In 2017, holiday sales in the U.S. in November and December totaled nearly $692 billion, according to the National Retail Federation.
Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is known as the mega-shopping day in America. Last year, online retailers earned a staggering $7.9 billion on Black Friday, an increase of about 18 percent from 2016, according to Adobe Analytics.
But Small Business Saturday, created by American Express in 2010, is catching on. Last year, shoppers spent $12.9 billion, and four in 10 American adults either shopped or dined small on Small Business Saturday.
In Kalispell, Ryan Berweger has seen the power of Small Business Saturday at his store, Flair Cards and Gifts.
“It’s a pretty big sales day; for us it’s the kickoff to the whole holiday season,” Berweger, one of the shop’s owners, said. “It’s nice that it’s grown over the last few years, and it’s nice that people are showing their support for the small businesses in town.”
This will be Flair’s fifth Small Business Saturday, and Berweger said Flair will give free gift bags to the first 100 purchasers of the day. The shop is also offering 20 percent off everything in the shop.
“It’s a really nice day,” Berweger said. “And it’s definitely gained more awareness.”
Lufkin at the Kalispell chamber said shopping local can mean finding unique treasures, and it is a way to help keep local economies clicking along.
“Sixty-eight cents of every dollar spent at a small business stays in our community,” she said.
For more information on Small Business Saturday, check out the insert in this week’s Beacon.