Ask bookstore owner Benn Ray which he prefers, Black Friday or Small Business Saturday, and he will give you a straight answer.
"I prefer the one that's going to bring in the most money," said Ray, president of the Hampden Village Merchants Association and owner of Atomic Books.
Traditionally, Black Friday has been an above average retail day to look forward to each year, Ray said. But last year, "Small Business Saturday really felt like it was catching on," he said.
North Baltimore has no big malls other than the Rotunda, which is languishing while awaiting the planned start of redevelopment next May. But it has plenty of small retailers and boutique clothing stores on The Avenue in Hampden and in Belvedere Square and the Village of Cross Keys shopping centers, all prime candidates for a trend like Small Business Saturday.
Created by American Express in 2010 as part of its "Shop Small" campaign, Small Business Saturday is becoming the more realistic business promotion for many smaller retailers. While big-box stores like Walmart and Target opened Thursday night for Black Friday ("Thanksgiving only being Thanksgiving for a few hours," Ray observed wryly), merchants like Ray are warming to the low-key feel of Small Business Saturday, while still not ignoring Black Friday.
And Ray, like many, supports the Shop Small vision.
"It really should be a Shop Small movement first," he said.
"We love this," said Dorothy Fuchs, publicist for Ms Petite Shoe, a store on The Avenue that sells shoes and chocolates. "So many businesses get overshadowed by Black Friday. A lot of people forget (small businesses as) the backbone of America."
Ma Petite Shoe owner Susannah Siger is happily hedging her bets between Black Friday and Small Business Saturday. She planned to bring in a chocolatier from Washington to provide samples for a chocolate happy hour Friday evening. But she also planned a promotion for Saturday in which participating shoe companies would give customers small, funny gifts with the purchase of shoes, like a matching dog collar and makeup bags.
Siger believes there's room for both Black Friday and Small Business Saturday and that customers tend to think of Black Friday as a day to take family and friends from out of town shopping, while supporting Small Business Saturday as a day to "make a statement" themselves about the importance of shopping locally.
This year, Saturday promotions are more noticeable. The gift shops of The Walters Art Museum downtown and the Baltimore Museum of Art in Charles Village are holding a joint event, in which any visitor who becomes a member of either museum that day or buys a gift membership will receive 20 percent off their purchases.
Belvedere Square is getting into the Saturday spirit, too, with individual merchants doing their own promotions and specials within their store, according to property manager Stacey Pack.
For example, The House Downtown, a furniture store, is marking down all merchandise in stock and offering a 10 percent discount on special orders through December, and Nouveau Contemporary Goods is offering 20 percent discounts and champagne all day Friday and Saturdays, Pack said.
But Belvedere Square, known for its boutique businesses, is holding a reserved weekend, compared to the Holiday Open House planned for Dec. 15.
That, said Pack in an email, "is going to be much more of an event."
The management of the Village of Cross Keys shopping center is bypassing Friday and Saturday as promotional days, with nothing collectively planned, although individual stores are welcome to do their own thing, General Manager Valerie Whiteside said.
But Whiteside stressed that Cross Keys, which is also known for its independent and boutique retailers, should have been involved, at least in Small Business Saturday, and the only reason it isn't is that the center's new owner, Ashkenazy Acquisitions Corp., "is still finding its way around."
Corradetti Glassblowing Studio and Gallery, in Woodberry, is taking full advantage of the marketing possibilities of Small Business Saturday, hosting a Christmas ornament-making workshop.
"We will have a full house," co-owner Julie Corradetti said in an email.