Long Island's independent merchants are jockeying for a place on the shopping radar this weekend.
Saturday will be the third annual Small Business Saturday, an event launched by American Express in 2010. Sandwiched between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Small Business Saturday has been gaining awareness, some merchants say. And in the wake of Sandy, some expect the event to be bolstered by the community ties that have been reinforced as both business owners and residents have donated and volunteered in the recovery efforts.
"They [shoppers] might be looking for that personal touch and more of a community feeling," said Carole Singer, owner of Carole's Corner Fine Jewelry Boutique in Northport, "because that's what this has been about -- people pulling together as communities to get through this."
American Express is supporting the nationwide event by offering cardholders who sign up a $25 credit if they spend $25 or more at a qualifying small business Saturday. Enrollment is limited. The company also has paid for television, radio and digital advertising featuring local small retailers. Twitter has donated $1 million in free advertising. And the National Federation of Independent Business is promoting small retailers on its Facebook page and Twitter feeds.
"What we really want to do is build awareness . . . so when you hear Black Friday, you think Small Business Saturday," said Mary Ann Fitzmaurice Reilly, senior vice president of American Express OPEN's customer marketing.
Last year, two out of every three consumers were aware of Small Business Saturday, Reilly said. This year, Long Island small retailers hope the event will provide much-needed exposure as they play catch-up from critical business lost in the weeks after the storm.
Kerry Punzi, owner of Giftology and The Cook's Fancy in Rockville Centre, said advertising provided by American Express was "invaluable" for the small retailer.
Often, small merchants are the ones who support Little League teams and local charitable causes, and they have donated to local storm-relief efforts, said Julie Marchesella, president of the Nassau Council of Chambers of Commerce.
"So many small-business owners were hit hard this year. We didn't have heat and electric so we lost two weeks of pre-Christmas selling time," she said. "It really is important that communities remember their small-business owner."
The Greater Sayville Chamber of Commerce's relief effort began as one donation box in Barbara Whitbread's Seafarer Gift Shop. It now has expanded to a 14,000-square-foot space in the old Sayville library where heavy-duty cleanup supplies and other needed items are distributed by volunteers to families rebuilding after Sandy, said Whitbread, the chamber's marketing director. That was possible because of the chamber's close connections with the community, she said.
"This is humanizing," she said. "It's not the big-box stores helping them clean up. It's the local people and the downtown."