The Origins of Small Business Saturday

Shopping locally is pretty important to us here at Our Friend the Artist. I mean, we talk about it all the time, and it makes sense. As we strive to connect local Chicago artists with an audience, part of our job involves directing consumers to these artists to support their work.


We prioritize shopping local all year-round, but there is a certain time when it’s on our minds even more: the end-of-year holiday season. It is simultaneously a time of joy and stress, a time of thankfulness and desire as our full bellies compliment our empty wallets. Thanksgiving kickstarts this cheerful, yet gluttonous time. As our children cry for the latest toys, your dinner table begs for the most elegant spread of food and homeware. And in the distance, you can hear your credit card crying to be left alone.


Thanksgiving weekend is quite an eventful few days. Of course, it starts with the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday. Then Black Friday takes over, littering our line of sight with bright sale signs. We hear less-than melodious alerts that toll, “reduced price”, “the biggest sale of the year”, and “a can’t miss-out deal”! Thoughts of new, shiny products clutter our minds. Then, if there’s money left in our bank account, Small Business Saturday closes out the weekend and primes us for Cyber Monday.


Aren’t we all just so incredibly thankful for this corporate-made spending extravaganza? By now, you must have caught on to my sarcasm. I’ve never been a loyal participant of Black Friday. I can recall only one year I partook in the post-Thanksgiving dinner rush to the shops at midnight. I’m not saying this in hopes of praise. I’m sure there were other years when I was shepherded to the Black Friday weekend sale at Old Navy or Macy’s by my enthusiastic mother. My teen years didn’t see much Black Friday action either. And now as a young adult, with the financial freedom to buy a stake in the Black Friday/weekend fun, I still decide to shop responsibly. For this year, specifically, I’m focusing my attention on Small Business Saturday.


Small Business Saturday was started by American Express as part of a new marketing campaign that launched on November 27, 2010. The day was created by the multi-billion dollar company in the year following The Great Recession, a time of financial turmoil which took place from December 2007 to June 2009. Emerging from the chaos, the campaign served to help small businesses gain more exposure and encourage shoppers to spend within their community. It then became an official holiday in 2011.



Since then, consumers have happily supported their local businesses. In 2020, consumers spent $20 billion on Small Business Saturday. Notably, 56% of those shoppers made online purchases, up from 43% in 2019. Additionally, more than 50% of shoppers said they were driven to shop small because it was recommended to them on social media. That is some pretty significant economic activity. Let us not forget the corporate creator behind this new holiday - American Express’ PR Team must be rich by now!


There are several ways to view a holiday such as this one. The perspective that it is simply a corporate tactic to maximize the level of profit gained over one weekend is valid. On the flip side, there is the idea that it still does a lot of good for small businesses despite the reasoning for its existence. This results in both small-town and global economic growth. No matter your opinion, only time will tell if it will be a mainstay in holiday culture.


But if you’re interested in knowing my personal opinion, I’m a fan. I believe it’s important to shop at small businesses whenever feasible and the Small Business Saturday holiday provides an easy entry point into that world. Shopping small/local can be expensive. By introducing the concept of shopping small during a time of discounts, small businesses become more accessible. And once you are aware that these retailers exist, you may consider them the next time you’re in the market for candles, a jacket, new earrings, or whatever else. You may even decide to follow them on Instagram, which keeps them on your mind, you engaged, and more likely to purchase something else in the future.


So this week, among the sea of loud banner ads shouting out deals, I hope we can keep our eyes and ears open for the small businesses that may have a smaller, quieter bullhorn. Mark your calendars for November 27th! Small Business Saturday is next Saturday!


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