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Small Business Saturday is here, and strategic shop owners say they're ready

A customer browses through the baby shower display

A customer browses through the baby shower display at Madison's Niche in Huntington. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

Madison’s Niche saw the writing on the wall last year.

After the retailer's gift and clothing boutiques ran out of some products in the 2020 holiday season due to supply chain issues, it began ordering an overstock of merchandise for this year’s season in January, instead of waiting to do its usual weekly orders in the fall, said Carolynn Watson, director of stores and buying for Madison’s Niche, a Stony Brook-headquartered chain of five locations on Long Island.

"If I needed to order products today that I need to get through this holiday season, I wouldn’t be able to get it," she said Wednesday. The stores were able to get most of the merchandise they needed, and will be ready for Small Business Saturday’s influx of customers, she said.

Small Business Saturday, one of the biggest shopping days of the year for independently owned stores, is this weekend, part of the five days from Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday that are considered the unofficial kickoff of the holiday shopping season.

But global supply chain issues are presenting some retailers with challenges. Stores still trying to recover from months of government-mandated business shutdowns last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic have been scrambling to try to get the merchandise they need from their regular suppliers, or alternate sources, to ensure they have what customers want when they walk through the doors.

Why it's tough for small shops

Small businesses will feel the brunt of the supply chain problems because they have less capital than large chains to pay for rising freight costs, buy merchandise in bulk or pay for alternate means of transportation to ship goods from overseas, retail experts said.

Most of the clothes and shoes sold in America are imported from China – 95% of apparel and 98% of shoes in 2019, according to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration.

For toys, sporting and athletic goods, it was 81%.

The supply chain issues are caused by a number of factors, including rising consumer demand.

Also, manufacturers are contending with labor shortages and backups from factory shutdowns in the pandemic, said Alla Valente, senior analyst for security and risk management in the Manhattan office of Forrester Research Inc., an advisory firm based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

"It’s almost like the perfect storm that’s been brewing for quite a while," she said.

In October, 57% of small businesses in New York State reported delays in getting goods from suppliers, while 27% said they had difficulties locating alternate suppliers, according to the Office of the New York State Comptroller, citing U.S. Census Bureau data.

'We just want to dazzle'

Small Business Saturday is a campaign launched by American Express in 2010, as large-chain retailers continued their dominance of Black Friday.

Not only do participating stores offer promotions on Small Business Saturday, but also on the day, local chambers of commerce and other organizations nationwide annually organize community events in business districts that include visits from Santa, storefront decorating contests, prize giveaways, Christmas tree lightings and live entertainment.

Foot traffic at Madison’s Niche was strong days before Small Business Saturday, said Nicole Conforti, manager of the chain’s Plainview store.

"And we just want to dazzle our guests with … customer service and really help them find whatever they’re looking for for Christmas or for themselves," said Conforti, who said the chain will offer a 20% discount this weekend.

At Made by Michael Russo, a home decor and gift store in Cold Spring Harbor, sales should be strong, especially since COVID vaccination rates are rising, owner Michael Russo said.

"This year, I think people will feel far more comfortable being out and shopping," said Russo, whose store will offer a 10% discount Saturday.

Supply chain issues shouldn’t be a problem for the store, he said.

"Well, I’m getting a lot of products made in the USA, so I’ve been a little more conscious about buying here than overseas," said Russo, who said that 90% of the store’s products are made in America.

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