Independent merchants on Long Island took advantage of the fourth Small Business Saturday, an annual day to support local businesses.
Small retailers said Saturday's nationwide event, launched by American Express in 2010, helped to attract new customers while creating jobs and boosting the economy. Many merchants offered discounts and incentives, such as a free gift with purchase, to encourage consumers to "shop small."
"It seems to be busier this year than last year," said Courtney Citko, co-owner of A Taste of Long Island, a gourmet grocery store and bakery in Farmingdale. "It has caught up to more than just getting the American Express [$10] credit, but it now generally encourages people to support their local small businesses."
Susan Phillips, manager of Matty's Toy Shop in Rockville Centre, also endorsed Small Business Saturday, which falls between Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
"It has definitely been a positive," said Phillips, whose store has six other locations on Long Island. The stores provide free gift wrapping and personal shopping for customers. "Ever since it started, people do specifically come in for this."
Married couple Kim and Phil Von Arx, 39, of Rockville Centre, strolled the aisles of the toy store on Sunrise Highway with their 7-month-old, Lindsey.
"We're here for Small Business Saturday and to do Christmas shopping, while helping out our local small businesses," said Phil Von Arx, a self-employed financial adviser who said he was buying toys for his nieces and nephews. "The money stays in the community. It's nice to support more small shops."
On East Main Street in Patchogue, Lorice Fiala and Lori Belmonte, co-owners of The Colony Shop, which has specialized in children's clothing for about 67 years, said it is considered one of the village's anchor stores because it has survived the growth of the big-box retailers.
"Small businesses drive the economy," said Fiala, whose store offered discounts and free gift wrapping. "Without the small businesses, where would we be?"
Stopping by Colony while touring small downtown businesses across the county with local officials Saturday, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone bought two "Thomas the Tank Engine" cartoon shirts.
"We're doing everything we can to encourage people to buy locally," Bellone told Fiala and Belmonte.
Bellone then took a ride on a free trolley, provided by the Greater Patchogue Chamber of Commerce and the Bellport Chamber of Commerce, that was transporting shoppers between Patchogue and Bellport.
"We thought we should join forces being that we're small villages," said Bellport chamber president LuAnn Thompson, owner of Bellport Arts and Framing Studio. "Together we're more unique than the mall."