The Christmas holiday shopping season for small business owners in downtown Dover and throughout Kent County could be compared to the rainy season of the Serengeti, when the land is full of plenty.
Merchants feast as much as possible on "the most wonderful time of the year" so that they can survive the lean months of the dead of winter and the ghost town effects of the summer thanks to Delaware's beaches. And if they don't, it can spell disaster.
"For merchants like myself this season has always been and always will be the make-or-break season," Delaware Made Owner Tom Smith said. "If people don't shop this last quarter, you're in big trouble.
"Small businesses typically do 30 to 60 percent of their yearly business in the final quarter – October, November, December," said Smith, citing estimates from the Small Business Administration. "And that's true all over the country."
Boosting this month's sales for local merchants was Small Business Saturday, held the day after Black Friday across America to increase sales for mom-and-pop stores, store owners said. Although merchants were reticent to divulge exact sales figure, they saw a noticeable bump last weekend.
Forney's Too! Unique Gifts & Collectibles owner Gary Knox said his store off West Loockerman Street did noticeably better than last year's Small Business Saturday.
"We had a very busy, good, productive day," Knox said. "We had a store full of well-behaved, willing customers who bought a lot of good stuff for their loved ones. It was very, very successful."
Partners in Design co-owner Lucy Findlay said a lot of merchants still had smiles on their faces on Monday, typically a quieter day on West Loockerman Street.
"I just want to thank the people for supporting us last week," said Findlay, who owns the interior design and retail shop with Valla Rogers. "It was wonderful. I have been down the street and everyone said they had a wonderful day on Saturday. All the merchants are excited."
In addition to Small Business Saturday, Findlay gave credit to the Downtown Dover Partnership for promoting the downtown business district through events such as the Capital Holiday Celebration scheduled for Wednesday evening and the different parades held during different holidays.
Smith said Small Business Saturday was indeed a success, with all of downtown Dover busy. But, local merchants needed to sustain that success.
"Everyone that I asked said specifically they were here to support downtown Dover and Small Business Saturday," he said. "But, like all marketing, if it's going to continue on, there needs to be more follow through. I think in some ways the campaign to shop local has been very successful but only moderately so for Dover."
Page 2 of 2 - The difference for small business owners compared to big a chain like Macy's was capital, Smith said. A store like Macy's could survive a lean Christmas shopping season because it could borrow $300 million from the bank to get through a couple of months.
"Small businesses just don't have access to that kind of capital in real favorable terms," he said.
Findlay was a bit more optimistic in her assessment of Small Business Saturday's effect on the rest of the holiday shopping season.
"What it does is get people shopping downtown who don't normally shop downtown," she said. "They say, 'We didn't know you were here. We'll be back.' In that regard, the exposure is great for the rest of the year."