To Keep Georgetown Distinctive, Support Small Business Saturday  


With so many highly commercialized holiday shopping days popping up in recent years — from Black Friday to Cyber Monday to Super Saturday — it’s easy to become a grinch.  

Could it all just be a plot by major retailers to boost needless consumerism and profit by separating us from our hard-earned incomes? Not necessarily.   

One such holiday shopping day — Small Business Saturday (SBS) – has a different and arguably more noble purpose.  

Undoubtedly SBS — which falls on Nov. 27 this year — is intended to boost local consumerism, but many might not know it was originally created to restore economic vitality along the nation’s often beleaguered Main Streets, to boost local employment and wages, and to assist with the historic preservation and revitalization of such communities.  

How did SBS begin? In 2010, at the height of the Great Recession, the non-profit National Trust for Historic Preservation joined with American Express in an effort to redirect consumers away from big box holiday shopping toward “shopping small” locally. As an antidote to the shopping frenzy of Black Friday, SMS was established to be held yearly on the first Saturday following Thanksgiving, the day after Black Friday and its association with desperate consumers trampling Walmart greeters in search of midnight bargains. Countering Amazon’s rising domination in online holiday sales was also one of its implicit messages.  

By 2011, SBS became official as President Obama’s White House endorsed and promoted the shopping day. “Small businesses are the backbone of our communities,” the president said. “Small business owners don’t just employ our neighbors; more often than not, they live alongside us, too.” In that same year, the U.S. Senate officially recognized SBS and today, all 50 states do so as well.   

The idea of saving the nation’s struggling Main Streets by promoting shopping at local small businesses did not originate in the White House, however. Revitalizing America’s “Main Streets” by fusing historic preservation with local business development and job creation was pioneered by local Maryland planner Mary Means. Known as the “Queen of Main Street,” Means founded the original Main Street Program at the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1980.  

Today, the Georgetown Main Street (GMS) follows the four-point program Means helped develop by boosting Georgetown’s commercial corridors through: economic restructuring, organization, promotion and design. The American Planning Association awarded Means the “National Planning Excellence Award for Planning Pioneers” because of Means’s “far-reaching legacy in historic preservation and community revitalization through the Main Street program” which “has helped, and continues to help, thousands of communities across the country.” In her award, Means was credited as a “true visionary who offered a road map for locally owned, locally driven prosperity.” 

Today, thousands of Main Street communities across the country are boosted through the National Trust’s work with local businesses and community organizers. According to Main Street America, Main Street initiatives nationwide have seen $74.72 billion reinvested in local commercial corridors, 276,790 buildings rehabilitated, 614,716 jobs created and 138,303 businesses started since 1980.  

When SBS was first launched in 2010, Stephanie Meeks was serving as the president and CEO of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Author of the book The Past and Future City, Meeks helped transform the Trust’s vision of historic preservation along America’s struggling Main Streets into one combining economic development with traditional protection of historic structures.  

“Preservation has had a bad reputation in some quarters, and I would say deservedly so, for being the movement of “no” — the people who tell you what you can’t do. But the fact of the matter is that preservation is one of the most powerful tools for urban regeneration we have,” Means said in a speech at the Congress for the New Urbanism in 2017. “Reusing older buildings creates jobs and it reinvigorates local economies and helps small businesses come to life. It can help our neighborhoods be healthier and more sustainable.”  

In the speech, Means cited the H Street corridor in Washington, D.C. as a shining example of such revitalization. ‘That historic corridor which is one of our official Main Streets welcomed 250 new businesses and more than 3000 jobs in just over a decade.” 

“When we invest in small businesses, we are investing in places that give our towns and cities a unique sense of place,” Means said when SBS was launched. “By celebrating Small Business Saturday and shopping at independent businesses, everyone can play a part in strengthening our economy and supporting revitalization on our Main Streets.” 

Now in its 11th year, SBS has proven remarkably successful as a means of boosting local economies. Americans spent over $140 billion on SBS since it began, according to the Small Business Administration. For every dollar spent on small businesses, American Express estimates an average of $0.67 is funneled back into the local economy. In 2019, an estimated 110 million people participated in SBS with sales close to $20 billion, outpacing both Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, more than half of Americans either own or work for a small business (500 employees or fewer) and small businesses create about two-thirds of new jobs in the U.S. each year.  

Ward 2 Council member Brooke Pinto told The Georgetowner how significant SBS is for Georgetown. “There is something very magical about strolling the streets of Georgetown during the holiday season – the beautiful decorations, the smells of delicious food, and the incredible gifts inside our small businesses,” Pinto said. “Our small businesses need our continued support, especially this year. I’m looking forward to supporting our local vendors in purchasing gifts for my family, sourcing ingredients for new delicious recipes, and buying toys for D.C.’s children in need. I invite all neighbors to join me in ensuring our holiday shopping is local – see you in Georgetown!” 

The Georgetowner also spoke with Rachel Shank, executive director of Georgetown Main Street (GMS), about the importance of SBS to the community. When asked about the connection between promoting local holiday shopping in Georgetown and its historic preservation, Shank said the connection was much on her mind lately. “I was just on a webinar with Mary Means who was actually the inspiration for the Main Streets program at the National Trust,” she said with a laugh. 

Shank often hears residents say, “Georgetown is nothing without the commercial corridors,” she said. “And from what I’ve heard, they really, really want to preserve the historic nature and that charming feel…. The uniqueness of Georgetown is that we’ve got such different diversity in architecture and in properties,” Shank said. “We’re not one big shopping mall.” She cited the devotion to the community of the proprietors of Martin’s Tavern and Bacchus Wine Cellar as just two examples of what could be lost to Georgetown if local establishments are not sustained.   

Rachel Shank, Executive Director of Georgetown Main Street.

GMS will be registered as a Neighborhood Champion for SBS this year, so they’ll have all the “swag” provided through American Express to promote shopping local, Shank said. “We’ll be running a social media campaign ahead of [SBS] to continue to share the importance of shopping small around that time, because it will be in the community zeitgeist, thinking about how much you spend in your community that goes back into that community…. I feel that the pandemic has really been kind of an awakening” for Georgetown, Shank said, “and that if you want to keep these small businesses here you have to shop here.”  

“The conversations I’ve had with so many folks around shopping for the holidays have been like, “when I was looking for Christmas presents or other holiday presents, I wanted to shop around and I didn’t know that I would be able to get a gift for everyone in my whole family in Georgetown.”  

“Nothing is really quite like Georgetown,” Shank said. “We have obviously the most charming neighborhood in all of D.C. with such an incredible history and diversity of shops. Really, there’s something for everyone and one of the beautiful things about Georgetown is the business owners and the people behind the businesses. Just knowing you’re shopping local, you’re supporting those families — a lot of these folks, there’s just one family that owns the business and maybe they don’t even have any employees. It’s just them. This is their dream…. So, when you stay in Georgetown and you shop local, you’re really supporting that business.”  

 

 

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