Small Business Saturday: Downtown has its day

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BENNINGTON — Shoppers hit downtown Bennington to snag deals and to visit local shops throughout Saturday for the town's annual "Our Hometown Holiday," also known as Small Business Saturday.

Held across the country every year, Small Business Saturday celebrates and supports small businesses and communities, and to help kick off the holiday season. Founded by American Express in 2010 to help small businesses struggling in the wake of the great recession, it falls on the Saturday following Thanksgiving and Black Friday.

The Bennington Downtown Alliance spearheaded Bennington's local shopping event. Volunteers and shopkeepers handed out free "Shop Local" tote bags, which contained fliers advertising downtown Bennington stores and the specials each business was holding, along with a list of local restaurants and the Downtown Alliance's upcoming holiday themed events. Santa Claus was at the Downtown Visitor Center to take photos with kids and hand out treats.

The Bennington Downtown Alliance helped dress up stores for Small Business Saturday. Each participating store had a small blue heart decal displayed on its front door. Similarly designed blue welcome mats were also stationed in front of each door, and some stores had white-and-blue balloons hanging on signs or displays outside. Small Business Saturday decorations were provided by American Express.

Vine & Branches Gallery, one of Main Street's newest businesses, saw many customers picking up jewelry. The store specializes in handcrafted products made by local artists, according to the shop's owner, Mina Zaffarano.

"It makes me happy to see people downtown and it helps make town feel like more of a community," Zaffarano said. "It's good to see neighbors buying stuff made by their neighbors."

Sixty-five vendors from across the Northeast supply the products displayed throughout the store, Zaffarano said. Each item is one of a kind.

This was the second Small Business Saturday for Vine & Branches, which opened in May 2016. Even though she's had the shop open for almost two years, people always tell Zafarrano that they had never heard of her store before.

She believes that Small Business Saturday helped make more people aware of what Main Street and downtown Bennington has to offer.

"I appreciate the Downtown Alliance working with us as a community," Zafarrano said. "It gives you that class downtown community feeling."

Winter gear was a popular choice for many who visited the children's consignment shop Here We Grow, according to store owner Jaime Lane. Waves of shoppers filtered in and out of the store throughout Small Business Saturday.

The consignment shop is home to infant and children clothing, accessories, and much more. The store accepts items that are in good condition and are in season. Those who choose to consign with Here We Grow can either get cash for items brought in or can receive store credit for that amount.

The consignment shop has been open for a little over five years and they have many regular customers who return, Lane said.

Here We Grow offered a 20 percent off storewide discount, a $20 gift certificate giveaway, and a chance to win two tickets to see Phish on New Year's Eve in New York City. The consignment shop had deals on Black Friday with discounts on clothing with different colored tags.

"I think it's great to have people supporting local, small businesses instead of just box stores," Lane said. "I appreciate everyone supporting our downtown local businesses."

The Ukulele String Ensemble, decked out in green elf hats, played store to store. They filled each shop up with festive holiday tunes, where some of the members sang along. As the group played inside Knapp's, children danced around to the tunes, as shoppers checked out store shelves.

"It's been wonderful," Jayne Outwater, owner of Knapp's, said. "It's what people associated with downtown hope to see."

A steady number of visitors visited the store throughout the day, Outwater said. Knapp's had 30 percent off all toys, 25 percent off music accessories, and 20 percent off hobby supplies.

She said that many people were cashing out with toys, but the store had sold a little bit of everything during the event — even instruments.

"I'm glad to see people are downtown and that people are supporting downtown," Outwater said, "and I hope they'll continue to support it all year."


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