For many small businesses, making their way in the world today takes everything they’ve got. Heidi Drake, founder of the local business Happy Doh Lucky that creates homemade play dough for children, says that starting a company can be an incredibly lonely experience. But for local business owners like Drake, events like “Small Business Saturday” on Nov. 29 can be a huge boost to sales and morale.
“I love networking with other small businesses, you don’t feel alone out there,” said Drake. “It can be the smallest event in the world, and I’ll still make a connection that makes the business grow.”
With a population of 225,000, Arlington is the second largest county in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area. Small Business Saturday is a nationwide shopping holiday started in 2010 alongside Black Friday and Cyber Monday, which tries to assist local entrepreneurs who can become overwhelmed in a weekend mostly devoted to larger retail industries. Arlington Small Business Day was started in 2012 by Shana Lawlor, founder of Alainn Exporting, to help small businesses cross-promote each other. Since 2013, more than 170 businesses have become involved with the program.
“Sixty cents of every dollar you spend at a small business stays in the community,” said Lawlor. “When you shop at a small business, you’re not only supporting your community, but your friends and neighbors. If you live here in Arlington, why not shop here? They got into business here for a reason, they love what they do and they want that connection with their community.”
This year’s small business day featured a bazaar on Columbia Pike where Arlington small businesses, many of which are online stores, had a chance to physically showcase their products.
“Some people are hesitant to buy things when they haven’t seen them, that’s the benefit of being able to do events like this,” said Molly Duffy, founder of Molly’s Closet, a small business that sells new or slightly used children’s clothes and accessories. “I’m a homebody, I’ve got children and it’s so much easier to sell online so I can be with my children.”
This year, one of the main features of Small Business Saturday was a smartphone application created by Lawlor called YOPP, a social networking app that allows the user to see what small businesses are in their area, to check out discounts, and to leave reviews. The app draws its name from the Dr. Seuss story “Horton Hears a Who!”, where citizens of a city on a speck of dust are finally able to make enough noise to be noticed by the world. The idea of YOPP is to give a similar voice to small businesses that can become overwhelmed in a weekend that heavily favors larger retail outlets.
Arlington Small Business Day also got some help from more established businesses in the area. Red Rocks, a pizzeria with four locations in the D.C. area, provided hot chocolate for the event and advertised it online.
“We want to make a name for ourselves as a neighborhood restaurant,” said Sarah Lakey, representing the pizzeria. “We do that through community outreach.”
“When a bigger business gets involved, they have a following in their social media a lot of smaller businesses don’t have,” said Lawlor. “It’s important for companies like Red Rocks and people established in the community to get involved. [The companies] have to be tiny business to participate.”
Outside the bazaar, Emma Burd and other students from Wakefield High School gave out hot chocolate to raise money for their school and to help promote the event.
“This is a great way for small businesses to reach out into the community and get their name out there,” said Burd, 2016 class president at Wakefield.
Burd is helping to plan the school’s bazaar on Dec. 13 and was informed Wednesday, Nov. 26, that she’d be able to fundraise at Small Business Saturday. Since most of her team was away for Thanksgiving break, Burd said she and some of her classmates stayed up until four in the morning the night before making crafts and decorations for their Small Business Saturday fundraising event. Burd says she’s learned a lot from seeing how small businesses operate.
“I’ve learned that you need to be patient,” said Burd. “We started out slow and I was nervous, but then people started coming [to the event] and it was a nice boost of confidence. Patience is key.”
Shana Lawlor’s sister, Erin Lawlor, said that there’s a restaurant in Arlington where she and her family eat regularly. They walk in and immediately recognize people around them. She said it’s a positive feeling and one she hopes more people in Arlington can experience.
“Arlington is big, but there are tons of little neighborhoods all over the place,” said Erin Lawlor. “People want to live and play in those neighborhoods and they want to feel a sense of community. It doesn’t matter if it’s a big town or a little town, you create a neighborhood around you where there’s small businesses, where you can walk in. It’s like Cheers. It’s a home. People want that.”