Boston retail leaders ask people to ‘shop like jobs depend on it’ on Small Business Saturday

This big shopping weekend is, like everything else in 2020, going to look different — but local business advocates say it’s important for Bostonians to make sure to shop local.
“We have to shop like jobs depend on it — because they do,” said Jon Hurst of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts. “The consumer is 70% of the economy. We need to remember that — shop early, shop safely and invest in the local economies.”
Amid the coronavirus, Black Friday isn’t expected to have the same mobs of people in stores due to gathering constraints. But big businesses famous for sales on that day have taken the savings online, and extended them out, adapting to the situation — while small businesses, already struggling particularly during the pandemic, have to figure out what to do on Small Business Saturday.
“I’m a bit more concerned about that than I am Black Friday,” Hurst said. He said his member organizations, which are largely such businesses, “have been disproportionately hit by COVID, and they’ve had to reinvent themselves.”
For example, last year only 25% of his organization’s members sold online — but now that’s 50%, he said.
Boston City Councilor Annissa Essaibi-George, a Boston city councilor who owns Stitch House, a small sewing shop in Dorchester, said this portion of the year is crunch time for neighborhood businesses like hers.
“It’s more critical than ever that businesses do well this weekend,” she said. “So many businesses are just surviving — and barely.”
Essaibi-George said there isn’t hard data on how many businesses have shut down yet, but officials over the summer believed it to be 25%.
“They really are more than a place to shop — they really are part of our community,” she said, saying right now it’s mainly “the big boys” — the large national chains — who are best able to hang on.
Amy Cahillane, who runs the Downtown Northampton Association, said stores in her her city are spreading out deals over several days.
“Everyone collectively has no idea what to expect because we don’t know if people are going to be comfortable going into a store to shop, don’t know if people will just default to Amazon because it’s fast and easy and it comes to your home. It’s such an unknown,” she said. “There’s a lot of emotional support for small businesses, I think the challenge is how that will translate into actual sales.”
Boston Mayor Martin Walsh on Wednesday noted in a Wednesday press conference that, “It’s been a very tough time for our small businesses here in the city and in the commonwealth.”
Walsh said the city normally has in-person programs in various parts of the city, encouraging people to buy local in their neighborhoods, but this year, during the pandemic, that’s not the case. But the city continues to provide millions of dollars in assistance to try to help them stay open. He announced that on Saturdays until Christmas, business districts will have free two-hour parking.
Fatima Ali-Salaam, chairwoman of the Greater Mattapan Neighborhood Council, said various neighborhood groups under her umbrella organization are trying to help out small businesses.
“It’s really important,” said Ali-Salaam, noting her area’s various local eateries and storefronts.
Meg Mainzer-Cohen of the Back Bay Association said Newbury Street isn’t going to be in its normal packed state, but stores will be open and people will be out. She said stores have had to evolve amid the virus, figuring out new ways to do business — and different ways to interact with the consumer.
“Curbside pickup, scheduling appointments, delivery,” she said, “It has turned into a much more customer-focused shopping experience.”
Herald staff writer Lisa Kashinsky contributed to this report.

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