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WNPR’s small business coverage elevates understanding of the challenges faced by small business, educates policy-makers, and highlights the vital role of small business to the state’s economy.

Downtown Businesses Look for Holiday Boost

Black Friday is rapidly approaching, and ads from the national chains and the big box stores are hard to ignore. But once again this year, small retailers are hoping to catch a slice of the holiday shopping action.

Downtown Hartford on a weekday mid-morning can be a bit of a ghost town, a fact that Jody Morneault readily acknowledged. "This is not an area where people just walk in and buy from you," she said. "This is not like being in a suburban community where there's a lot of traffic and lots of people are shopping." Morneault and her husband Ronald own Stackpole Moore Tryon, an upscale clothing store on Trumbull Street.

The Morneaults took over the 100-year-old store seven years ago, and they've found the formula to make it work. It's been so successful, they recently opened a new business nearby selling discounted merchandise, and employed five new people. According to Jody Morneault, the secret for a downtown small business is attention to detail. "Normally," she said, "the people who are successful in this environment really are on top of their game, whether it be Al Armstrong, who owns a magnificent jewelry store that carries all high-end watches, or it's Max Downtown, that has the premier wines and great quality food, but the owner is on the floor, watching the business."

It's also about continually reminding people that they have options. This Saturday is designated the fourth annual Small Business Saturday, when consumers are urged to leave the big boxes and forsake their armchair online shopping to spend some of their dollars locally. Senator Richard Blumenthal is backing the campaign. "Shopping is a wonderfully festive and joyous occasion," he said, "but it also means jobs and economic growth, particularly when people buy their holiday gifts from small businesses."

The federal Small Business Administration is throwing its weight behind Small Business Saturday, with marketing materials for retailers, and a social media presence. Regional Administrator Seth Goodall said his mission aligns completely with the campaign. "We want to make sure we get capital, dollars, into the hands of small businesses so that they can grow," he said. "They can get through tough times, but also they can start businesses. In addition to that, we want to make sure that we're constantly bringing new people into the fold."

Ronnie Morneault at Stackpole Moore Tryon said that over the years Small Business Saturday has been promoted, he's seen more than just a one-day boost from the initiative. "I think it works," he said, "because it has a residual effect throughout the whole year. The fact that people are aware of a business being independent. They ask when they walk in the door: is this part of a chain, or are you an independent store? So it's on their mind. How did it get on their mind? Got on their mind because of the campaign, I think."

The National Retail Federation is forecasting a slight fall in the number of people who plan to shop this holiday weekend, compared to last year. According to their survey, while 97 million of us will venture out on Black Friday, a respectable 61 million plan to shop on Saturday.

Harriet Jones is Managing Editor for Connecticut Public Radio, overseeing the coverage of daily stories from our busy newsroom.

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