Shoppers come out for downtown Bel Air stores on Small Business Saturday, despite rainy weather

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Bel Air resident Barb Clark, who patronized downtown Bel Air retail shops as a youth, spent Saturday shopping with her granddaughter on Main Street among many other patrons who wanted to support independent businesses on Small Business Saturday.

Black Friday and Small Business Saturday made for what at least one business called a “phenomenal weekend,” despite drenching rains arriving early Saturday afternoon.

“I am a native Harold Countian, and I am so glad to see this revitalization of Bel Air,” Clark, who grew up in Churchville, said.

She said her husband grew up in Fallston. Both are Bel Air High School graduates. Clark and her granddaughter, Peyton Peverley, 16, of Bel Air, huddled under an umbrella against a steady rain as they walked north on Main Street.

Peverley, a sophomore at the John Carroll School in Bel Air, held a tote bag bearing the “Shop Small” logo of Small Business Saturday.

Small Business Saturday was launched by American Express in 2010 to encourage Americans to support their local, independently-owned businesses the Saturday after Thanksgiving, according to the Small Business Saturday web page on the American Express website.

Clark and Peverley visited a number of boutiques on Main Street, such as the Tiger Lily and Urban Pearl clothing stores, the Tiny Toes children’s shop and the Julie Ellyn Designs craft jewelry store.

“We love these boutiques, especially when you have a teenage granddaughter,” Clark said.

Post-recession recovery

Small Business Saturday started in 2010 as the U.S. began its long recovery from the Great Recession and housing market crash of 2007 and 2008. It was initially meant to encourage Americans to get out and shop and boost the recovery, plus support locally-owned community stores. It has since grown to where consumers spent an estimated $85 million at restaurants and shops on Small Business Saturday over the past eight years, according to the website.

Toni McCracken has owned the Tiger Lily boutique on North Main Street since April of 2006. She said she began to see a turnaround in her business around 2010 or 2011.

“We got through the recession, and my business [since the turnaround] to date is up 35 percent,” McCracken said.

She used one word, “incredible,” to describe the traffic at her store this year during Black Friday and Small Business Saturday.

“This year we did more in one hour than we did in the entire day for Black Friday last year,” she said. “It was something else — I’m truly blessed and thankful.”

McCracken said business has been steady throughout 2018, even during the typically slow summer months. She praised the community for its support, as well as her seven employees.

“My team rocks, it really does,” she said. “Talk about support from the community and my staff; it’s amazing.”

Colleen Murphy, of Bel Air, purchased two fur scarves from Tiger Lily Saturday. Murphy tried on one while store manager Kristin Carey wore another as a demonstration of how well it keeps the neck warm.

Murphy said she and her family have lived in Bel Air for 13 years, “but I only recently discovered downtown Bel Air. She said she has been patronizing downtown shops more in recent years as her children have grown older.

“I’ll still shop at the mall, but I like this kind of place,” Murphy said of Tiger Lily. “I like individual stores run by a person.”

A ‘phenomenal weekend’

Urban Pearl owner Lyn Boone and her staff, just a few doors down Main Street from Tiger Lily, also reported a busy day Saturday. Boone said things had been busy since opening at 7 a.m. with a “door buster” sale, and they had not slowed down until around 3:45 p.m.

The store was crowded with Black Friday shoppers until around an hour before its 7 p.m. closing the day before. Boone said she expected the traffic would have been at the same level Saturday had it not rained.

“It’s been really kind of a phenomenal weekend,” she said.

Bel Air residents Michele Townsley and Angela Wrzosek and Forest Hill resident Charlene Zecha visited Urban Pearl late Saturday afternoon.

“We really wanted to support the small business owners and start Christmas shopping,” Townsley said.

Zecha said shopping downtown was also a chance to have an outing with her friends.

“It was something fun to do with girlfriends,” she said.

Zecha said the staff at Urban Pearl is “friendly and helpful.” Townsley said she can find items not available at chain stores.

Boone, the owner, said she has about nine full-time and three part-time employees as well as six high school students, who serve as ambassadors for the store. The staff call themselves #pearlgirls, according to Boone.

“We just have fun,” she said. “It’s a family, a family of pearl girls.”

Urban Pearl was named best clothing boutique for 2017 in Harford Magazine’s Best of Harford County readers’ poll. The business, which was previously a mobile boutique, has been in its brick-and-mortar location on North Main Street since early 2016, Boone said.

“It’s been good ever since we opened,” she said. “The town really is supportive of small businesses, even in the age of Amazon.”

Angela Wrzosek said her husband, Frank, owner of the Civic Cyclery bicycle shop on North Bond Street, had a busy Small Business Saturday, too.

“We had a lot of bikes sales, a lot of new people stopping in,” Frank Wrzosek said at his shop, shortly before closing.

He said he had seen “other small businesses promoting everybody” downtown for Small Business Saturday.

Wrzosek said business has been steady, “better than expected,” since he opened in the spring of 2016.

“The [Bel Air] Downtown Alliance has been very supportive,” he said.

Sales associate Ryan Dupre said the downtown “foot traffic really helps,” as well as the “awesome parking” behind the store. The bike shop and neighboring businesses share it, Dupre said.

Success in Armory Marketplace

Shops at the Armory Marketplace, the business incubator developed by the Town of Bel Air in former garages behind the Armory, were open for Small Business Saturday.

Liz Decker, who owns Caprichos Books with her husband, Jeff, said some shoppers came in Saturday who were also patronizing the Festival of Trees in the Armory, but much of the traffic came from people supporting other downtown establishments on Small Business Saturday.

“A good bit of customers came in with bags from other stores,” she said during a telephone interview Saturday evening as the day’s rain increased in intensity.

Caprichos, an independent bookstore selling new and used books, has been in Armory Marketplace for three months, Decker said. She said the store has been competitive so far, even in an era of big-box and online booksellers.

“We have a community that really wants to see us be successful, and we definitely felt that today,” Decker said. “That’s a big reason why they were out today, to get things they wouldn’t necessarily see anywhere else.”

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