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Small shops seek to cash in on holiday spending
Some shoppers look to avoid big crowds
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Big-box retailers may have their annual Black Friday deals, but smaller businesses have their day in the sun, too.

"We usually have some customers on that day, mainly during the evening hours. But that Saturday is when we are usually quite busy," said Jennifer Pirkle, owner of Cozy Corner on Brenau Street in Gainesville.

By that time, Pirkle says most of her shoppers have been in the large mall crowds and are looking for something different.

With that in mind, American Express has launched an initiative nationwide called Small Business Saturday. The goal is to encourage shoppers to support their independent, locally owned retailers.

Pirkle hopes the movement gains momentum, because smaller businesses - like her gift shop that has been around for 35 years - could use the support.

"It's hard for us to compete with the big boys," Pirkle said. "They are able to offer certain deals that we can't, but we are also able to offer unique things that they don't have."

Supporting small businesses doesn't just help the owners, it also helps the community at large by providing numerous employment opportunities, say officials with the U.S. Small Business Administration.

For instance, according to the most recent data available from the administration, there were more than 6 million small businesses nationwide in 2006, which represents 99.7 percent of the country's employers and 50.2 percent of its private-sector employment.

Small businesses in Georgia represent 97.7 percent of the state's employers and 46.3 percent of its private-sector employment, the administration reports. A small business is defined as one with fewer than 500 employees.

According to some small business owners, it's their employees who set them apart from major retailers.

"The average length of service for our sales people is 15 years," said Phillip Forrester, who owns Gainesville Jewelry on Jesse Jewell Parkway, which has been in business for 30 years. "Many of the big-box places hire a lot of part-time help, so they may not be as knowledgeable as our people."

Besides a well-informed staff, there are other benefits to shopping in locally owned establishments, Forrester said.

"We are able to cherry pick the best of the best. For instance, with the diamond earrings that we have on sale this weekend, we picked the best 25 pair from the 100 that were sent to us to look at," he said.

"We use the same supplier as the big-box places, but because they have so many stores to stock, they just have to take whatever they are sent. But we are able to be more selective."