Brad Norris and his family spent Saturday morning shopping, stopping at a bakery for breakfast, buying power tools, looking for shoes and soccer balls, and weighing a possible purchase of a vintage kitchen table and chairs.
Best of all, they walked everywhere and never left their Highlandtown neighborhood.
"We made a day out of it," said Norris, the co-founder of Cohesion Theatre Co., who with his wife and 2- and 4-year-old sons and the boys' grandmother came out for Small Business Saturday, stopping at Hoehn's Bakery, High Grounds coffeehouse, Value Village, Rust-N-Shine antique shop and several galleries in the East Baltimore neighborhood before heading to Sneaky Feet.
The "Shop Small" campaign started six years ago as an American Express-created "holiday" to get consumers to think about patronizing independent local establishments during the Black Friday weekend. This year, neighborhoods and businesses throughout the Baltimore region participated in events and promotions.
"This is a way for people to think about spending their dollars differently," said Amanda Smit-Peters, the director of Highlandtown Main Streets. "Even if they purchase one thing differently here instead of a big-box store, that's a victory. We want businesses to be successful, and we want the people who live here to support them."
In Highlandtown on Saturday morning, about 150 people came by a table set up on South Conkling Street outside Hoehn's Bakery, which partnered with Highlandtown Main Streets, a program of the Southeast Community Development Corp., to promote the day. Bakery owners and Main Streets officials handed out "Shop Small" tote bags and information about businesses, including some recently opened galleries and food markets.
"It's a way to engage with our customers and find out what they're looking for," said Rob Hoehn, who helps run the bakery owned by his sister, Sharon Hoehn Hooper.
In Catonsville, Leigh Ann Ruggles was buying candy for Advent calendars Saturday morning at Ken's Old Fashioned Candy Shop on Frederick Road for her daughters, Finley Aquino, 9, and Sofia Aquino, 5, and their cousin, Miller Ruggles, 4.
"You can spend less than $1" on candy that's priced at 4 cents a piece, Ruggles said. "It's old-fashioned and sweet."
Ruggles said she tries to support the mix of shops and eateries in the downtown area.
"That's why we live in Catonsville," she said. "We can walk here."
Brett Sippel, owner of Rooftop Hot, a farmers' market that opened recently on South Conkling Street in Highlandtown, said he hoped the day would highlight the new businesses that have been joining long-standing ones in the shopping district.
"Any time you get some neighbors walking around, that helps," he said.
Small Business Saturday has grown since its inception in 2010. Last year, some 88 million consumers patronized small businesses, a nearly 15 percent jump from the previous year, according to the National Federation of Independent Business and American Express. Shoppers who were aware of the small-business day reported spending $14.3 billion at independent stores and restaurants, up 2.1 percent from the day in 2013.
Some of that growth is due to social media leveling the playing field for small-business owners as a way to reach consumers, said David Goldin, president and CEO of New York-based Capify, which provides working capital to small and medium businesses.
With most holiday promotions geared toward national chains, a day that encourages small-business shopping can have an impact, Goldin said.
"The backbone of our economy is the small-business owner," Goldin said. "Assume you have a family member that ordinarily wouldn't go to a local retailer or restaurant. The whole idea is they're going to keep coming back for more, not just ... once a year."
At the Objects Found consignment shop just off Frederick Road on Egges Lane, owner Reggie Sajauskas hoped to encourage sales on Small Business Saturday with a 20-percent-off sale. Sajauskas, who has run the shop for 20 years but just moved to a new location, has seen the "shop small" campaign spark interest.
"This has been huge the past two years," said Sajauskas. "I think it is catching on."
At Write-On! on Frederick Road, which customizes T-shirts with rhinestone designs and specializes in Ravens, Orioles and Maryland flag-themed apparel, owner Debbie Welsh was offering $5 off all purchases of $25 and over for the small business day. She said she tries to compete with big retailers by offering more unique merchandise.
"It is nice to support your small businesses," said Welsh, who started the narrow shop on Frederick Road more than two years ago. "That's what makes the world go around. ... People do like to support small businesses. But they don't always think about it."