Citiology manager

Melanie McGinnis, manager of Cityology, shows off a potential holiday gift.

Small Business Saturday began a decade ago as a bit of a gimmick to convince shoppers to use the American Express credit card in smaller retail shops.

Today, Small Business Saturday is emblematic of small business owners' fight to stay open in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

"It's huge," said Jennifer Hill, owner of Songbird and current president of the Fourth Street Business Association. "We rely on Christmas to survive. It's what keeps us going — we just have to have it."

That sentiment was repeated all over Long Beach this week. Blair Cohn, executive director at the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association, said Small Business Saturday is a great reminder of just how important support is to retailers.

"We're always trying to get support for businesses," Cohn said. "This Saturday is a, ‘get off the computer and go spend money locally' day… We're looking at a dark winter. But we can't just give up."

Because of the no crowds restrictions the health department is imposing, special activities associations have used to attract shoppers in the past aren't taking place this year. Dede Rossi, executive director of the Belmont Shore Business Association, said there won't be a Santa on Second Street, but the BSBA has created a Virtual Second Street on the association's website.

"No events this year," Rossi said. "We're just pushing for people to come out and visit our stores. And if they don't feel comfortable coming out, they can visit Virtual Second Street at www.belmontshore.org."

Individual store promotions abound this year, whether it is discounts or gift cards for spending a specific amount or special services like imprinting. Business associations are doing what they can to promote those specials.

"It's very different this year," said Austin Metoyer, economic development and policy manager at the Downtown Long Beach Alliance. "We won't be doing a big event but we will be promoting what our members are doing. For example, the East Village has a joint marketing push.

"We're partnering with LA Magazine to extend our audience. We'll focus our marketing on Saturday — it's very important, the most important time of the year for many of our retailers."

The Fourth Street Business Association also is promoting individual business specials online.

"We are seeing more foot traffic," Hill said. "I think people are exploring more. We have a lot of variety on the street. We're trying to be very conscious of safety protocol; we've used a per square foot formula to know how many people can be in our shop."

Cohn said that while it's important to support small businesses Saturday, it's even more important to support them until the coronavirus pandemic breaks and beyond.

"Do you remember all the times you went to them and asked for sponsorships, or donations for your charity?" Cohn said. "Now it's time to pay it back a little bit. When you look at any small business, you're looking at the American Dream. Now it's time to save that American Dream."

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Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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