Big retailers dominate the Thanksgiving shopping weekend with a blitz of deals and discounts designed to entice the masses, but many Long Island independent merchants say the relatively new promotion called Small Business Saturday has developed into a lucrative shopping event for them.

Started in 2010 by American Express, this national small business shopping campaign attracted nearly 100 million shoppers to independent stores last year, where they spent about $5.5 billion, according to American Express. Many local business chambers have coordinated their holiday celebrations such as tree lightings and Santa visits to take place on the same day, aiming to boost shopping traffic at main street businesses.

"We look forward to Small Business Saturday," said Marilyn Schulman, co-owner of Willy Nilly Trading Co. and Willy Nilly @ Home in Bay Shore. She said her sales for November have been much higher than they were last year, after superstorm Sandy hit the Island. "It's definitely a big day because American Express is making the effort to get the word out."

American Express, which has been marketing the event with TV ads and social media, offers registered card holders the incentive of a $10 credit on their statement if they spend $10 or more in a single purchase at a qualifying small business. Registration, which is limited, opened on Sunday.

Beside the offer of a $10 credit, many consumers believe that a community with thriving independent businesses helps sustain and boost housing values, said Patrica Norins, a Small Business Saturday Shopping Expert for American Express. And small shop owners also plan to offer deals that day, realizing that consumers are looking for them.

"Of those small businesses planning on participating, 67 percent are planning on offering special deals or discounts," Norins said.

The combination of Sayville's annual Miracle on Main Street event -- which includes a tree lighting and musical performances -- and Small Business Saturday makes the day the biggest of the year for sales at Four Star The Home Store, located on Sayville's Main Street.

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Customers do ask if the store is a Small Business Saturday participant, but the main draw, said manager Carolynn M. Mertens, is the store's "warm" small-town feel.

"Our store is more about tradition, a small-town feeling and unique gifts that customers can't find elsewhere," Mertens said. "It's that mom-and-pop mentality that people enjoy rather than the big, cold square-box store in the mall."