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Small businesses in Utah feel support on Small Business Saturday

Harmony, a craft shop on Center Street in Provo has seen support from the community on Small Business Saturday.

Harmony, a craft shop on Center Street in Provo has seen support from the community on Small Business Saturday. (Emily Ashcraft)

Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes

PROVO — Multiple businesses in downtown Provo reported feeling support from the community this weekend, and throughout the last few years.

Pioneer Book manager Scott Glenn said the bookstore had many people come in to support his small business, and others who have told him that Pioneer book is the only place they shop on Black Friday.

"Especially after this last year and a half, we've really realized how beloved this store is," he said. "I think people recognize that it's an asset to the community and I think some people feel like we're a dying breed. We're doing quite well, so we're not in any danger of going away, but I think people feel like 'we need this in our community."

The beloved bookstore encouraged customers to wear plaid this year, to show support on Black Friday and Small Business Saturday. Glenn said that last year on Black Friday and Small Business Saturday, they were astonished at how many people wore plaid just to show support for small businesses.

While there were fewer people in plaid, Glenn said he felt support — a customer who he had enough store credit to cover his purchase paid for his books anyway, because he wanted to support the company this month. They also received an overwhelming response from people donating to their reading incentive program.

"People are very supportive, and they feel like it's their store which is the feeling that we want to encourage, because it is. It requires effort from not just our employees, but from our customers to keep us in business," Glenn said.

Pioneer Book has had to adapt throughout the pandemic — they now have a website which makes online orders possible. Glenn said that the pandemic brought some people back to reading, along with more customers to the bookshop, as there were fewer events outside of the house and people were experiencing screen fatigue.

Saturday was the 12th annual Small Business Saturday, a tradition started by American Express in the midst of the recession in 2010.

Over the last few years, the retail environment has changed and local businesses have to compete with online merchants, said Marla Trollan, district director of the Small Business Administration of Utah. Despite this, she said small businesses in Utah generate two of every three new jobs in the state, and employ over 607,000 Utahns.

"I personally invite you to shop small this holiday season," Trollan said.

The Small Business Administration estimated that about $19.8 billion was spent at independent retailers and restaurants around the country on Small Business Saturday last year.

Will Nettleton, a manager at Modern Shoe, also on Provo's Center Street, said that their biggest problem right now is not a lack of customers, but supply. He said they have historically given large discounts on discontinued items, but that they haven't had discontinued products lately and have not been able to offer such a discount. He said supply is not just an issue for small businesses, but is across the board, especially for large shoe brands.

Nettleton said that business was slower last year, but that it has picked up this year. They also have an online store that Nettleton said does well, but they still have consumers coming in to try on shoes on in person.

"There's a little bit of extra value that we add ... you can't really get that online," he said.

Nettleton said a lot of regular customers are still coming into the store, including some who have purchased shoes there since they were teenagers.

The Small Business Saturday push helps unite people in an effort to support small businesses, instead of large companies, Rachel Harmon, owner of Harmony, a local crafting shop, told She said new customers in her shop on Saturday had discovered it online and came because of the push to support small businesses this weekend.

"It is helpful to make a day where we recognize the little places that make our communities vibrant," Harmon said.

She said that the support for her business from the community is phenomenal, and she feels customers come to support them because they want them to succeed.

Harmon started the business nine years ago with her mom, and it took seven years for the store to start making a profit. The store recently moved to a building that is double the size. The company now owns the location and will have more space to hold classes.

The craft shop experienced some slower business during the pandemic while customers could only search their shelves through a video call, and later when they were limiting the number of customers who could be in the shop at a time. Harmon said, however, that the crafting industry grew as people were at home and decided to learn to knit and sew, so the business was able to bounce back and she said she thinks — at this point the pandemic — has overall had a positive impact on her business.

Harmon also said customers have showed up even more to help Harmony stay open. The customers value the sense of community they find at the store. Not being able to hold classes helped Harmon realize how important it was for everyone, which helped with her decision to move to a bigger location.

"People feel valued and so they want to come back, and that's the difference ... you can't replicate the sense of community and wonder and creativity that you get from the actual experience of coming to a store that's trying to provide an experience for you, so I think that's why we have such loyal customers," Harmon said.

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