Big box stores draw huge crowds each year on Black Friday.

But, more recently, American Express started the Small Business Saturday initiative, encouraging shoppers to hit their favorite local retailers and put their hard-earned money back into the community.


This weekend marked the third year for the initiative and, if these Bel Air businesses are any indication, the "shop local" movement has grown larger than expected.

"It went fantastic," Scott Walker, executive director of the Bel Air Downtown Alliance, said. "I heard good things across the board from retailers and restaurants."

Nearly three dozen businesses in and around the Downtown Bel Air area participated in Small Business Saturday, Walker said, and the majority were busy throughout the day.

The Chesapeake Cancer Alliance's annual Festival of Trees at the Reckord Armory acted as a "hub" for shoppers, Walker continued, who began at the armory and walked up and down Main Street visiting different businesses.

Children's boutique Tiny Toes had an "outstanding" day, co-owner Karen Jacobs said.

"Compared to last year, which was by our standards very good, [the business] was more than double," she said. "Not only the sales but the volume of people off the street and the number of people actually referencing [Small Business Saturday] as their reason for coming in."

Jacobs said a mix of people came to shop at Tiny Toes Saturday — regular customers, brand new shoppers, some who came in to support the local business and even some out-of-towners.

"It was better than we could have ever imagined," Jacobs said, adding that she wished she had more staff in that day, but was able to handle it.

Jacobs hopes Small Business Saturday continues to grow in the years to come and believes it is growing so quickly because of the somewhat recent focus on local businesses.

"There's so much focus on local [businesses] in many different ways — eating local, shopping local," she said. "It's gained a lot of publicity and with that has gained a lot of traction."

With such strong agricultural and business bases in Harford County, Jacobs continued, the community is "further along in the curve than other areas might be because we have those roots in our area."

Mel Machovec, owner of Stalefish skate shop, said Saturday's business was "phenomenal."

"It's amazing to me how they organized this Small Business Saturday, shop small movement," he said. "It blew my mind."

Black Friday was successful for the store, Machovec said, and usually a day like that brings a not-so-busy day the next. Not the case this year.


"Saturday was just as good as Black Friday," he said. "We did more than double the business from last year."

Stalefish moved into a larger space in October from Bond Street to North Main Street and with that had much more merchandise for customers.

Machovec credits the Bel Air Downtown Alliance with some of the day's success, praising the organization for getting the word out.

Charm City Run up the street told the same story — "terrific" turnout and "busy, non-stop" through the day.

Manager Bradley Viers said he got a good vibe from customers who came into the store with shopping bags from different local retailers on Main Street.

"I think there were many people last year that thought Small Business Saturday was just a Bel Air Main Street type deal and didn't know it was nationwide," Viers said. This year, he added, there was "more recognition that this is the real deal" and people, even business owners, were more aware of the event.

"It's different for a small business to tap into the Black Friday competition when you have these big box retailers trying to blow out inventory by the end of the year," he said. Small Business Saturday gives local shops a leg up on being part of the biggest shopping weekend of the year. "I know it made a huge impact."