Downtown Bel Air was bustling with holiday shoppers as people took advantage of post-Thanksgiving deals and made an effort to patronize independently-owned businesses on Small Business Saturday.

Shannon Ogrysko and Megan Cannon stayed away from the stores on Black Friday, thinking it was just easier to buy online. But on Saturday, the cousins relished going shopping, making a day of browsing Bel Air's traditional-style Main Street, dotted with shops and restaurants.

Ogrysko and Cannon were among hordes of shoppers that descended on small merchants around Baltimore for Small Business Saturday, part of a movement to support locally owned and community-based retailers during the holiday shopping season.


"I would rather come down here to shop than go to the mall," said Ogrysko, a 22-year-old nursing intern from Forest Hill, who bought a Grinch Christmas ornament in Full Heart SouLutions. "I'd rather spend money at small business stores than large chains."

The day designated for "shopping small" has grown in popularity each year, along with a buy-local movement that has caught on with consumers. On Saturday, neighborhoods and communities such as Bel Air, Ellicott City, Westminster, Fells Point and Annapolis participated in the annual, and now national, event. American Express started it in 2010 to give a boost to small businesses that struggled through the Great Recession. By 2012, officials in all 50 states were promoting the day.

Last year, an estimated 112 million people shopped at small businesses on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and business owners generated an estimated $15.4 billion, a survey by American Express and the National Federation of Independent Businesses showed.

At Full Heart SouLutions in Bel Air, shoppers jammed the narrow boutique filled with U.S.-made products, perusing wool hats and sweaters, candles, jewelry and T-shirts with quotes such as Gandhi's "Be the Change You Wish to See in the World." Customers were waiting to get in when co-owner Kyanne Garrigan opened the doors Saturday morning, she said.

"It's probably the best day we have all year long," Garrigan said. "People are aware that if you contribute to the community that you live in, that that money is going back into the community that you live in. People are starting to recognize that."

Country Britches, also on Main Street, was busier this year than last year's Saturday after Thanksgiving, said owner Dawn Wise. The shop sells upscale secondhand clothing, new clothing and artist-made goods.

"It is huge to small businesses," Wise said of the designated day. "It means everything; not only does it help with the holidays, but it is just so nice to see how many people care. It is so nice to feel the community coming together."

Speaking with shoppers and business owners for Small Business Saturday, the American Express-created holiday on the day after Black Friday. (Algerina Perna / Baltimore Sun video)

Andrea Esbrandt of Kingsville headed to the Shops at Kenilworth in Towson on Saturday with her daughter and grandsons to see the mall's popular holiday train garden and to support local businesses at the recently renovated mall. She bought chocolate-covered cherries for her husband for Christmas at a kiosk run by Rheb's Candies, a century-old candy maker with a Catonsville store. Then she browsed at apparel boutique Lila Byrd and home goods store Stebbins Anderson.

"Small business is important for our economy," Esbrandt said. "Small business is important for the community, to get the community together."

In an age of mass discounters and online shopping, merchants said they have to work harder than ever to keep even longtime businesses going.

At Amaryllis, a designer jewelry boutique that's been in business 31 years and at Kenilworth since April, co-owner Allie Wolf was hoping for a boost from the day.

"It does try to differentiate us and other small retailers from the big guns of Amazon or even Walmart and Target and stores like that," Wolf said. "Initially it was very scary to have that big world in competition, but now I feel like we're not really in competition with them. We focus on our customer, helping them very personally and developing relationships with them… and having different merchandise that we hope we present in a beautiful way that's affordable and meaningful."

The 150-year-old Stebbins Anderson, a tenant when Kenilworth opened in 1977, also competes by focusing on service and unique merchandise, said owner Ken Knight. The business has benefited from the American Express promotions for Small Business Saturday that help kick off the holiday season.

"We would wish everybody would consider small businesses every day," Knight said.