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Downtown retailers report sales surge for small-business shopping event

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While Black Friday sales met the expectations of New Jersey retailers as a whole, the state's mom-and-pop stores saw a bigger boost than anticipated for Small Business Saturday.

According to the National Federation of Independent Businesses and American Express, which have partnered to entice consumers to shop small for the past three Christmas seasons, consumers spent a total of $5.5 billion at independent merchants on Nov. 24, though surveys had estimated the total would be $200 million less than that. And while American Express offered the same promotion as last year, providing cardholders a $25 statement credit if they spent $25 at an independent store, Amex transactions at small-business merchants rose approximately 21 percent compared to last year's Small Business Saturday.

Before the initiative was launched in 2010, Doris Crater, owner of clothing boutique DJ Crater, in Chatham, would see her sales drop to around $2,000 on the first Saturday after Thanksgiving — nearly $2,000 less than a typical Saturday for the store, as "people stayed away from downtown because they were busy shopping at the malls and online."

But since Crater first participated in the campaign three years ago by posting signs in her store and sending e-mail blasts to customers, her store's sales for that Saturday have grown to $13,000 this year, when she began spreading the wealth to other local merchants by promoting Small Business Saturday through the Chatham Downtown Alliance.

"Our town does not hold holiday celebrations, so it's up to each individual merchant to drive business during the holiday season," Crater said. "Business has been slow since Hurricane Sandy, because most people's homes were without electricity for two weeks, but we were happy to see them crawling out from under that and coming out to town to shop on Small Business Saturday. There's just been tremendous response and support for small business, and we're doing everything we can to keep it going."

Though Westwood's small storefronts anxiously await an imminent business boost from the reopening of the former Pascack Valley Hospital, Joseph Abou-Daoud, executive director of the Westwood Chamber of Commerce, said those businesses had their "best sales ever" on Black Friday, and he expects to hear similar stories about Small Business Saturday at a town hall meeting on the topic tonight.

"I wasn't around the town on Saturday, but I was there all day Friday, and I can tell you the town was busier than it has probably ever been," Abou-Daoud said. "Our promotions with our retailers for the weekend were, 'Avoid malls, avoid traffic, support local business' … in the long run, I think all the big-box stores opening on Thursday night helped our small businesses on Friday."

While Small Business Saturday kicked off in Westfield at the town's Lord & Taylor anchor retailer, Sherry Cronin, executive director of Downtown Westfield Corp., said consumer spending wasn't limited to that store, as "the preliminary report is everyone did well."

"One of our stores, Savory Spice Shop, was not as busy as last year, which was relative to Sandy impacting that type of purchase. But the fact that the store had customers calling them to ask if they were participating in Small Business Saturday shows that consumer awareness is high, which certainly helps small businesses," Cronin said. "With that vibrancy, we're seeing new businesses wanting to move in, which is the strongest indicator that these campaigns are working in bringing more people downtown."

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