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A big day for small business
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The Newton County Buy Local initiative is gaining momentum. In recent years, the community has come to understand the incremental impact of voting locally with their consumer dollars that help build a stronger local retail economy. In turn, this makes Newton County a more viable and desirable location for retail investment. Testimony to this fact is the announcement in the past few months of Cracker Barrel’s decision to develop a new store, the opening of three new businesses and the expansion of existing business in downtown Covington.

There’s an event Saturday, Big Day for Small Business, that presents a new opportunity to support Newton County’s Buy Local Initiative. It’s sponsored by American Express and Facebook, endorsed by the 3/50 Project, the National Main Street program, local and national media and other advocacy groups. The focus is to remind holiday shoppers they can also make the cash registers ring at small independent businesses the day after Black Friday.

Small, independent retailers have always been challenged to find a niche during the Thanksgiving Shoppingpalooza. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg in his support of the Small Business Saturday dismissed concerns that small businesses could not offer the sharp discounts that make Black Friday and Cyber Monday so attractive to many consumers. That the value of small business to consumers is more than just price-shopping, it’s a retail environment where the owner speaks the same language as the consumer and those consumers simply feel good about supporting a local business.

Unlike Big Box retailers that have to be guaranteed a quantity of product delivered at a certain price point, small, independent retailers are able to access suppliers who may not produce in quantity but offer a quality product that is also unique. The inventory of downtown Covington merchants is a proof of this. Many of the downtown stores carry nationally-recognized product lines that are most successful when sold in downtown locations. Several of the stores in Downtown Covington are the highest performers in the Southeast for those product lines.

Downtown merchants and their staff take pride in knowing their customers, and this goes far beyond just knowing likes and dislikes; they also know about their customers’ lives and take an active interest in their well-being.

Now before anyone begins to send an e-mail, let’s say, "Yes, the price point is different in the downtown district compared to a Big Box, but the product is different, too."

This doesn’t mean that the consumer can’t find affordable items in the downtown district. A shopper could walk into any merchant downtown, and any one of them would quickly be able to show you something that would meet anyone’s budget. An added value is that many of the downtown merchants handsomely gift wraps purchases at no charge.

Most importantly, Small Business Saturday must be understood as part of overall strategy to promote retail choice in Newton County. Big Boxes, franchises, independent small retailers, and chain stores, every segment helps to build a strong, sustainable retail economy. It is not a choice of either/or, it is simply the ability to be able to exercise consumer choice and to help grow Newton County’s retail sector.

This weekend, Santa will be at breakfast at one of the downtown cafes, and then he will be at his workshop on Clark Street. Every Thursday during December, there are visits with Santa, carriage rides and seasonal music hosted by the Arts Association. Next Saturday, Dec. 4, is the Covington/Newton Christmas Parade hosted by the Covington Lion’s Club. Downtown merchants are the glue that binds all this together and makes these events possible.

Throughout the year, downtown Covington is the backdrop to many celebrations that define our community; there wouldn’t be quite the cause for celebration if there were streets of empty storefronts.

Please consider being a part of the nationwide effort to make this Saturday a Big Day for Small Business. As a community working to recover from the recession, we have nothing to lose but everything to gain.


Josephine Kelly is director of Main Street Covington.