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The downtown mindset

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Megan Delfine has been surprised by how many people want to shop local on Small Business Saturday. Last year was the first time that Delfine's Jewelry on Capitol Street participated in the nationwide event.

With Small Business Saturday stickers plastered on windows and Small Business Saturday doormats welcoming shoppers, downtown retailers hope Small Business Saturday not only brings shoppers through the doors Saturday, but also reminds customers of all the local downtown shops.

"People came in and said, 'I'm really trying to keep all of my Christmas shopping local this year,'" Delfine said. "I really hope to see the same effect this year."

Delfine tries to shop locally when she can because she grew up around the store in downtown Charleston, watching her parents put in the work required to run the small business.

"To celebrate small business is just amazing," she said. "Small business is just so important to our community. It feeds our community members. It supports those who support us."

Shoppers will have plenty of small businesses to choose from around the Mountain State, as they make up about 90 percent of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce membership, said president Steve Roberts.

There are about 3,500 active businesses in West Virginia. About 90 percent of those businesses have less than 100 employees. The vast majority are "micro-businesses" with less than 25 employees, Roberts said.

Born and raised in Charleston, Catherine Nutter recalls holiday shopping downtown.

"I'm old enough to remember when you had to shop downtown," said Nutter, who owns House of Luxe downtown on Quarrier Street. "I think [shopping downtown] is a mindset."

Nutter often hears complaints about parking downtown but said parking is far more accessible than it was when people shopped downtown stores before Southridge and the Charleston Town Center Mall opened.

"It's a mindset. You have to wrap your head around it," Nutter said. "There are downtowns all over the country that are thriving. It just takes time."

She hopes more people will come out for this year's Small Business Saturday and continue to shop at individual downtown stores.

Gina Puzzuoli owns Stray Dog Antiques on Hale Street and thinks Small Business Saturday is "lovely."

"I wish Charleston was more aware of the downtown businesses," Puzzuoli said. "It's a bit of an effort to get folks to come downtown."

At this point Puzzuoli is ready to try any idea to help business, she said.

The event sponsored by American Express began in 2010. The United States Senate officially recognized Small Business Saturday as an American shopping holiday in 2011.

Last year, consumers spent about $5.5 billion on Small Business Saturday, according to American Express.

"Sometimes it's hard to maintain enthusiasm," Puzzuoli said. "If there is some sort of city, state or national event that might help, it feels like just for maybe one day somebody else is helping to carry the load of getting the area revitalized."

Chuck Hamsher is looking forward to people coming downtown.

"Sometimes it's their first time downtown in a number of years," Hamsher said. "And you know, 20 years ago tumbleweed was blowing up and down the streets here. There is an awful lot going on down here now and people discovering that is the most enjoyable part."

Hamsher owns The Purple Moon on Quarrier Street and is hopeful a downtown merchant association will emerge or a group to promote downtown businesses specifically.

Delfine's Jewelry, House of Luxe, Stray Dog Antiques and The Purple Moon will have special deals Saturday during Small Business Saturday.

"The message I try and get to people is that it's not just Saturday, it's all through the holidays that the money spent at a small business stays in the community and actually means a lot more to the local economy than does shopping big box stores or national chains," Hamsher said.

Reach Caitlin Cook at caitlin.cook@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5113.


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