MYSTIC — The weekend after Thanksgiving is one of the most commercially important weekends on the calendar, and for the last week, local shops have been preparing for this start to the holiday season. One item in their favor has been the development of Small Business Saturday.
Small Business Saturday is an American Express trademark, but the public and small businesses in general have benefited from the campaign. The public has been made aware of the importance of shopping locally, supporting local businesses and keeping money in the community. It also helps to keep downtown retail districts thriving. Locally, it also helps retailers make it through the winter in order to remain open for the busy summer season.
“It has created a huge amount of buzz, and they have done an amazing job marketing it,” said Patricia Walsh, president of the Greater Mystic Chamber of Commerce. “It has created a huge amount of pride among the small businesses, and I think that launching our website is good timing and very important because it showcases all of these independently owned small businesses.” The website is luvdowntown.com.
Shop owners are looking forward to this year’s holiday season to make up for last year, when some retailers were disrupted by Superstorm Sandy and the foot of water it left behind.
One retailer affected by the storm was Linen Press, a supplier of fine home furnishings, which moved to the north side of West Main Street. Now, manager Jeanette Connors is preparing for the holiday rush.
“We are looking forward to it. It should be a good weekend,” she said. “We have put out a lot of products that will make nice holiday gifts and we have added some new items as well. We’ll be ready.”
Another merchant, Jack M. Steel of The Company of Craftsmen, said, “Last year was a mess. We had a foot of water in here but we were open for the holidays.
“At least this year I have a new floor,” he joked.
Steel’s store has been a fixture in Mystic for 33 years, carrying handcrafted, high-quality jewelry, gifts and housewares. “It’s been a big day for us in the past, but it will be a crazy weekend anyway,” he said.
Steel said he would be ready for the weekend but he also noted the irony that it has taken an advertising campaign by corporate America, in the form of American Express, to make people aware of the importance of buying local.
On Steamboat Wharf, Dan Curland of Mystic Disc recognized the irony as well. Another store owner who’s been around for 30-plus years, Curland is a strong believer in the community. “Small Business Saturday seems like a good thing, especially if it’s getting people to buy local,” he said.
“The most important thing is that if you buy locally, then I can take that money and buy locally, say from the grocery store, who employ local people. If money is spent in the community then money stays in the community. It creates a sense of community,” he said. “It supports local business that hire local people, or local kids looking for summer jobs.”
“Up and down the street, these stores sell things that are unique,” Curland said. “You can’t find that at the mall. In Mystic you have an independent bookstore, record store, all of these stores are unique. That’s what makes a place a community and it’s a commitment made by local people.”
Farther up West Main Street, the staff at The Velvet Swan and The Velvet Swan, Too, are familiar with the day set aside for small businesses. Like the others, the Swan, owned by Mary Stanley, has been in town for many years, 24 years to be exact.
“It will be a busy weekend. Anything that brings people into town is a good thing,” said Liz Carlson of The Velvet Swan, Too. “It is a very nice thing that American Express is doing — advertising to set aside a day to shop and support locally owned businesses.”
Another factor that is sure to attract a crowd downtown is Santa’s annual visit along with the official Christmas tree lighting and holiday boat parade. The activities begin on Saturday at 2 p.m. Santa Claus will arrive at the Mystic River Park on Cottrell Street in Downtown Mystic aboard the John Paul tugboat. Santa will greet children and listen to their holiday wishes in the park throughout the afternoon. Characters from the Mystic Ballet’s performance of “The Nutcracker” will also be at the park to greet children and pose for pictures.
Thames Valley Communications will be on hand with a craft activity for children while they wait for Santa, and the Fitch High School Class of 2014 will sell hot chocolate, coffee and baked goods as a fundraiser for its graduation party.
At 6 p.m., the Christmas tree will be lit by Santa and the 11th annual Lighted Holiday Boat Parade will begin a few minutes later.