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Shoppers push to support local businesses in Bel Air during Small Business Saturday

Shops and restaurants mobbed in downtown Bel Air for Small Business Saturday

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.

Shoppers hit major retailers around Harford County, such as JCPenney and Best Buy, late Thursday and Friday as retailers kicked off the Christmas shopping season with Black Friday discounts.

Saturday was the day to support small, locally-owned businesses, however. Small Business Saturday was launched by American Express on the first Saturday after Thanksgiving in 2010. Shoppers spent an estimated $14.3 billion at small businesses during the 2014 Small Business Saturday, according to American Express' website, www.americanexpress.com/shopsmall.

Businesses in downtown Bel Air and Havre de Grace participated in this year's Small Business Saturday.

Bel Air's Main Street buzzed with activity in the afternoon as people visited the various shops, as well as the Bel Air Armory, which was hosting the 10th Annual Festival of Trees fundraiser.

Deborah Symon and Susan Bulavko, both of Edgewood, walked down Main Street carrying small bags with gifts purchased at the B. Fabulous boutique and The Pink Silhouette apparel store.

"It's really been nice to see all the people out here supporting them," Symon said of small businesses.

Bulavko added that "the weather is great, to be able to walk around and be able to visit the small shops."

Both said they occasionally visit downtown Bel Air's shops.

"I like the atmosphere," Symon said. "I like the people down here, they're very friendly, outgoing."

Bulavko said store employees are willing to take extra steps to make sure the customers have exactly what they want.

"[They say] 'If you don't like it in silver, let's see if we can find it in gold,'" Bulavko noted.

Friends Susan Hagis, of Bel Air, Margie Sparr, of Abingdon, and Patty Stacey, of Bel Air, stood near B. Fabulous while waiting for the last member of their quartet, Lois West, of Bel Air, to finish shopping in the boutique. The small space was crowded with shoppers.

Hagis, Sparr and Stacey watched the foot and vehicle traffic along Main Street. The longtime friends grew up in Harford County, and they were glad to see a still-vibrant downtown Bel Air.

"I think it's a good thing, to see it this busy and a lot of people coming out and shopping," Hagis said.

Sparr said she enjoys patronizing the smaller businesses in Bel Air and Havre de Grace.

"You get more unique things here," she said of the downtown Bel Air shops.

West came out of the store and apologized for the wait.

"There was a line," she said.

West showed the orange dangling earrings she purchased in honor of the Baltimore Orioles. She had also purchased a Christmas gift for a relative.

"I'm a boutique shopper," she said. "I don't go to the mall much; I like the small shops."

The StaleFish Board Co. was also mobbed with shoppers checking out components of custom skateboards and snowboards, as well as surfing gear and sports apparel.

"It's been insane," owner Mel Machovec said. "It's been so crowded all day."

Machovec helped Mikaela Magness, 15, of Forest Hill, as she tried on a pair of snowboarding boots. Her mother, Deb Magness, said she had been bringing her daughter and son to StaleFish since they were children to get custom-made skateboards, as well as snowboarding equipment.

"It was perfect timing," she said of Saturday's excursion. "It's Small Business Saturday and around the holidays."

Magness said she likes that "personal touch and service" offered by Machovec.

Machovec said the Small Business Saturday crowd was "hands down" better than he sees on a typical Saturday.

"This could be one of the most crowded days in the history of StaleFish," he said of the business, which has been in Bel Air for 10 years.

Machovec also offered space outside his shop for two local artists to sell their works. Paul Burke, a resident of Bel Air and owner of Burke Photography, sold photo prints along the Lee Street side of the store, and Bel Air resident Adrienne McCauley, owner of Mad Kat Design Studios, sold paintings and pottery along the North Main Street side.

"I think every store on Main Street on Saturday should have a table out front to add culture to Bel Air," Machovec said.

McCauley, who works full-time at Aberdeen Proving Ground, said she had sold about 20 pieces of art as of Saturday afternoon, thanks to the foot traffic along Main Street and shoppers visiting StaleFish.

"So many people have even mentioned to me they were here especially to support small businesses today, and Mel's shop has been jumping all day," she said.

Burke, who is a junior at the University of Virginia and was home for Thanksgiving break, said he sold about 10 to 15 prints.

"It's really nice, more [sales] than I expected," he said.

Customer traffic was steady at businesses off the main drag, too. The Bows and Britches consignment shop on North Bond Street, which sells children's clothing, toys, books and movies, was busy Friday and much of Saturday.

Owner Dale Button said the store offered a 20 percent discount on all stock Friday and Saturday, and the shoppers responded – some items, such as a Barbie jeep, were marked with a 30 percent discount.

"Even though we're a consignment shop and a small business, we still have to offer some kind of sale for the consumer," she said of the Black Friday deals.

Customers who spent at least $10 could also enter a raffle for a $25 in-store gift certificate, according to Button.

"Sometimes we get lost in the shuffle over on Bond," Button said. "It was nice to know [shoppers] are coming over and patronizing us as well."

Traffic was light in the store by late afternoon, and clerk Patti Heagy said she was getting her first break of the day.

She said she had seen a lot of foot traffic outside, "so people are definitely supporting small businesses."

Heagy said some customers came from as far away as Baltimore, and they reported learning about the small shops in Bel Air.

"I think about half the people I saw today, I don't recognize, so that's nice, bringing in new customers," Heagy said.

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