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Small businesses hoping for ‘tsunami’-like turnout

Updated November 28, 2020 - 8:01 am

For three years, Tim and Lynn Dilloo have hosted “Shop Small in Vegas” on Small Business Saturday to support more than 120 vendors, crafters and businesses. The event often draws thousands of local shoppers looking for homemade treats and crafts that can’t be found anywhere else.

The pair received approval from state and local health officials last Tuesday to hold an outdoor event Saturday after months of planning to comply with safety mandates.

But it won’t happen.

Related: Las Vegas’ incentive to drive local shopping? Free parking

Events approved by the state for the next three weeks must be canceled as part of Gov. Steve Sisolak’s new restrictions that accompany the statewide “pause.”

“To say it is devastating is a complete understatement,” said Lynn Dilloo, who is scrambling to set up a virtual platform to help more than 70 businesses that are now in limbo. “This is how they supplement their income. These small-business owners are now the ones who are shut down and who are financially going to be crippled.”

Many mom-and-pop businesses across the valley are unsure what Small Business Saturday — the day after Black Friday — will bring this year, but they are counting on sales to help them stay afloat as they continue to navigate the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Difficult year

Bryan Wachter, senior vice president at Retail Association of Nevada, said many small Nevada retailers normally start making a profit around the holiday season, except this year many are struggling to keep afloat.

Businesses have exhausted funds made available under the federal coronavirus relief package.

“Many have taken (Paycheck Protection Program) loans and are trying their hardest to stay alive,” said Wachter. “With COVID, it’s going to be a hard year for many of these stores at a time when so much is stacked against them. A good fourth quarter will allow them to continue in existence.”

Small Business Saturday was launched by credit card company American Express in the midst of the Great Recession in 2009 to encourage consumers to shop locally, said Randi Thompson, Nevada director for the National Federation of Independent Business.

Thompson said the message is clear: “Small businesses are all in the same boat this year – a sinking boat. This year, history is repeating itself. A rising tide will raise all boats, and this year we need consumers to act like a tsunami to help save thousands of local jobs.”

Unknowns

Gail Schomisch, co-owner of All Fired Up, a paint-your-own pottery studio in Las Vegas, is selling painting kits to go this year after her normal business model — on-site corporate parties and school fundraisers — was upended.

All Fired Up typically moves through 15,000 pieces of pottery between the holiday season with dozens of bookings each month, Schomisch said. The storefront is usually closed during the holidays because she’s too busy, she said.

But not this year.

The studio has been transformed into a production line to pack to-go orders, and Schomisch says she’s hoping people will make a purchase at the studio Saturday.

“I am going to be joining the other small-business people down in the trenches here trying to garner some business away from the big-box stores,” Schomisch said.

Lynn Dilloo, who co-owns Vegas Events and More with her husband, said vendors often sell out their inventory and can make thousands of dollars on Small Business Saturday. She’s in the process of moving the “Shop Small in Vegas” event online for a week because of the new restrictions.

The backup plan will allow merchants to showcase their products, but it’ll still hurt.

“But it’s more than that, there’s a take-away factor: The vendors are giving their business cards out there, and this is the start of the holiday season, so people see what’s out there, create those special orders, and then contact them over the next month,” said Dilloo. “That’s why this is going to hit harder than any event of any time of year.”

Tim Dilloo said most small businesses don’t have large marketing budgets: “So when a person buys a product and takes it home and their family and friends see it, they ask, ‘Where’d you get that?’ It’s a huge exposure for them.”

Retail experts say small businesses are going to be creative this year to compete against bigger stores like Walmart and Amazon.

Steve Horwitz, an economics professor at Ball State University’s Miller College of Business, said curbside pick-up, like what All Fired Up is doing this year, will allow small businesses to compete against larger retailers.

“The smaller businesses are going to have to be creative to think about ways to do this, where they can neutralize the advantage that big retailers have in terms of free shipping,” said Horwitz.

Shopping locally

Last year, Americans came out in force to support local businesses on Small Business Saturday.

Consumers spent an estimated $19.6 billion at independent retailers and restaurants, a record, according to American Express and NFIB.

And it seems like shoppers will spend the same or more this year at local businesses.

In a recent November survey by SSRS Omnibus, a national telephone survey firm, analysts found that 18 percent of Americans say they are more likely to shop at small businesses since the pandemic began, while 55 percent say they will continue to shop about the same.

Henderson resident Mikaela Cohen said she’s going to spend her holiday budget at local stores.

“This year, more than ever, small businesses need our continued help,” Cohen said. And while shopping budgets are tight for many, Cohen said she likes to do “whatever I can to keep small businesses in our community.”

Cohen said she prefers the unique items local stores offer, “the upbeat and friendlier demeanor of small local shop staff, and supporting someone who’s working hard to make their small business a success.”

She’ll be purchasing merchandise and apparel from local breweries, local bags of coffee and mugs from Dark Moon Coffee Roasters and VESTA, as well as some candles, signs and books from Magnolia Lane at The District in Henderson.

The city of Las Vegas said it will off free on-street meter parking in downtown on Saturday, Nov. 28, to encourage residents to shop locally. The city said on-street meter parking in the Fremont East District will be free Saturday and that street parking in the Arts District is always free.

“While things look different this holiday shopping season, free parking will allow customers to support local stores and restaurants, whether it’s dining in, shopping in-store or picking-up orders curbside,” city spokesman Jace Radke said in a statement.

Contact Jonathan Ng at jng@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ByJonathanNg on Twitter.

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