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Md. shops counting on Small Business Saturday

Hiywot Kassa, owner of Café Jovial at 784 Washington Boulevard in Pigtown, hangs Small Business Saturday signs in her front window in preparation for the event this coming weekend. (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz).

Hiywot Kassa, owner of Café Jovial at 784 Washington Boulevard in Pigtown, hangs Small Business Saturday signs in her front window in preparation for the event this coming weekend. (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz).

For the past four years, Hiywot “Deedee” Kassa has owned Cafe Jovial in Pigtown. Her customers are mostly neighbors, and many regular customers have become her friends. On Small Business Saturday this weekend, Kassa hopes that customer base will increase.

“I’m hoping that we’ll see more participation from the neighborhood,” said Kassa, a native of Ethiopia who used to work in a coffee shop before opening her own place.

Cafe Jovial falls is in a district known as Pigtown Main Street, a nonprofit dedicated to the commercial revitalization of the Washington Boulevard commercial corridor.

Since it was founded in 2000, Pigtown Main Street has played a large role in marketing small businesses in the neighborhood. Nine businesses have opened in Pigtown’s commercial district in the past seven months, according to Pigtown Main Street Executive Director Ben Hyman.

“It’s been a positive year for small businesses,” said Hyman.

Pigtown Main Street has been advertising its Small Business Saturday event that will feature special promotions and a visit from numerous city officials. The group will tour several small businesses on Saturday, including Cafe Jovial.

“This will probably be the biggest one because it has been advertised very well all over the community,” said Kassa.

The concept of Small Business Saturday, which was created by American Express in 2010, is — unlike Black Friday — not necessarily meant to give shoppers the best bargains. Instead, it is an opportunity to “showcase” small businesses that typically don’t have the large advertising budget needed to compete with major chain stores.

“Smaller businesses don’t have that advantage,”  said Victor Clark, program manager in the state Department of Commerce’s Small Business Resources office. “Small Business Saturday is something to highlight the strength of small businesses and publicize the fact that they’re there.”

Ben Hyman, Executive Director of Pigtown Main Street. Since it was founded in 2000, Pigtown Main Street has played a large role in marketing small businesses in the neighborhood. (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

Ben Hyman, Executive Director of Pigtown Main Street. Since it was founded in 2000, Pigtown Main Street has played a large role in marketing small businesses in the neighborhood. (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

Pigtown Main Street is offering a buy-one, get-one-free promotion on Saturday, but officials say the day is more about customer service than getting the best bargains.

“The deals that people get on Black Friday are only the kinds of deals the Walmarts and Targets can offer,” said Hyman. “The thing that people look for is the kind of service that you really can’t get at a big-box store.”

According to a survey by the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) and American Express, a record number of shoppers are expected to go out to support their local stores on Saturday. Survey results show that 55 percent of U.S. consumers are aware of the day, the highest ever recorded.

On average, respondents said they will do 35 percent of their holiday shopping at a small business this year. The Department of Commerce said the national figures can be used as an indicator for Maryland’s turnout on Saturday. The state did not have separate figures for Maryland.

“I think people are more into, now more than ever, supporting their local businesses,” said Karen Glenn Hood, a Department of Commerce spokeswoman.

Clark predicted Montgomery, Prince George’s, Frederick and Baltimore counties and Baltimore City will get a lot of traffic on Saturday.