Small businesses across the country and around Marshall are preparing for Small Business Saturday today — the local business answer to Black Friday.

American Express christened the shopping day back in 2010, and it has since caught on among small business owners in the community who rely on local shoppers to keep their stores open. In small cities like Marshall, local businesses often require a dedicated base of customers in the area, and Small Business Saturday can help them grow that base.

“When you have somebody like American Express sponsoring Small Business Saturday, that just raises awareness,” Shawne Somerford, owner of the Blue Frog restaurant, said. “They have the ability and the resources to get that marketing out there for us.”

Somerford’s restaurant, like many other small businesses, took a hit after COVID — and they aren’t fully back to normal just yet. The Blue Frog is still only offering to-go meals, but Saturday shows promise for owners like Somerford looking to get business to pre-COVID levels of activity.

Getting small businesses back to normal may help nationwide employment during the pandemic recession, as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports small businesses created approximately 10.5 million jobs between 2000 and 2019.

“Well, everybody took a hit during COVID. Everybody also was incredibly supported by our local community,” Somerford said. “The biggest thing about owning a small business is you have to be willing to change rapidly and often.”

Somerford and other downtown business owners said Marshallites are often dedicated small business shoppers, as evidenced by the city’s participation in festivals like the newly-reopened Wonderland of Lights. Small Business Saturday coincides with Wonderland events like the opening of Santa’s Village and the downtown Wassail Walk, when businesses in central Marshall compete against each other for the best hot cider.

Wonderland will bring foot traffic to the downtown area, which Kip Hoops, owner of Black Coffee Record Store on Washington Avenue, looks forward to on a daily basis.

When establishing the business in October, Hoops was unsure if Marshall would respond well to a vinyl record shop.

Thankfully, business rocketed for Hoops after the store’s soft opening, so much so that he had to close the shop to replenish the store’s inventory. Now that things have calmed down, Hoops is looking to tweak business hours according to foot traffic. Small Business Saturday might be a proving ground for Black Coffee’s potential as a new business in Marshall.

“In November, we’re going to look at the traffic flow,” Hoops said. “I started with being open six days a week, from 9:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., and by time five o’clock comes, [downtown] seems pretty desolate. I need to reflect that in my hours… Small businesses use their own creative energies, and the results show with how [customers] come through the door.”

Like many other storefronts in downtown Marshall, Black Coffee has added Christmas displays and inventory in preparation for more holiday shoppers. Just down the street, Black Bird Bathhouse Co-owner Raven Lenz and her daughter have prepped for their fifth Small Business Saturday and Wonderland crowd since opening in 2017.

Lenz’s shop sells handmade, natural soaps for a variety of uses, as well as Christmas merchandise like t-shirts and decorations. The business depends on local buyers, inspiring Lenz herself to shop as local as possible for personal and business needs.

“We like to spread the love to other small businesses,” Lenz said. “Because we’re a small town, Small Business Saturday is a big thing. Our small community thrives by supporting each other.”

Even though many similar businesses in the area need foot traffic to survive, Lenz’s shop remained resilient during the height of the pandemic by utilizing online sales from across the nation and world. Now their attention is turning back to Marshall as Wonderland begins.

“If you’ve got great products, and you put your heart and soul in it, people will come out and support,” Lenz said.

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Reporter/Deputy Editor

I am a lifelong East Texas resident with a passion for reporting local news. I recently graduated of the University of North Texas with a degree in journalism. In my spare time, I love to read, play drums and brew the best coffee I possibly can.