There are lots of surprises to be found at some of the small businesses in and around Dover.
Tired of those big box stores, with their cookie-cutter facades, doppelganger layouts and unending rows of checkout stands?
In Dover and Kent County, there are plenty of small stores ready to welcome Christmas shoppers as they observe Small Business Saturday on Nov. 30. Sandwiched between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Small Business Saturday is the shopper’s chance to get away from the mega stores and to put away the keyboard, all to experience some of the small companies that are the mainstay of America’s economy.
The event is a partnership between the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Express company, said Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce President Judy Diogo. This is the second year the CDCC has enlisted 10 local small businesses to take part in the program.
“For the public, this puts the focus on small businesses and gives them additional exposure,” Diogo said.
American Express supplies a number of gift cards for each of the businesses to use as they see fit, and the stores receive shopping bags, doormats, stamps, balloons and other promotional items they can use to attract more business, Diogo said.
This is the most important part of the year for many retailers, particularly small ones, said Al Paoli, Kent County director of the Small Business and Technology Development Center at the University of Delaware.
“Most retailers get up to 70 percent of their business volume between October and December,” he said. “Small Business Saturday is a good counterpoint to the whole Black Friday thing.”
The focus on small businesses gives shoppers a chance to find good quality merchandise in a way that benefits both the business and the community, Paoli said.
“That’s what makes a community,” he said. “If small businesses go away, there’s nothing left but the big box out on the highway. Small businesses are what make a community individualistic and vibrant.”
“The overwhelming percentage of businesses in Delaware are small businesses, which is very, very reflective of businesses in the entire country,” said Ken Anderson, director of Entrepreneurial and Small Business Support at the Delaware Economic Development Office.
Even though these companies usually have 50 employees or less − and some are run by only one or two people − they make up almost 90 percent of the businesses in the country.
“Over the long term, that’s where the jobs will come from, and that’s why they deserve our support,” he said. “They’ve gone through a tough, tough period and the unique thing is that they’ve persevered through some tough times in our country and in our state.
“I’m seeing a renaissance of these small businesses in the state and a greater interest in starting a small business.”
Partners Ginny Jewell and Marie Shane, who were managers at the former Atlantic Books, have put their past expertise to work at Acorn Books. Although they’d never owned a business themselves, they found their prior experiences have been a big factor in their success to date.
Still, Jewell acknowledges their business, like many small companies, often operates close to the edge, meaning every expense is important.
“Our biggest challenge was that now we were taking on all the tasks that a home office normally would have handled,” she said. “While you may have worked in a particular industry, you cannot underestimate how big the learning curve is when you need to know how to do everything.”
The Shady Lane Selections store near Hartly is packed with everything from Amish cookbooks to wall clocks to quilting supplies, housewares and toys.
“Unique is what I go after,” said owner Salina Yoder. “We have things you don’t typically find in stores these days, hard to find items.”
The key to success is to, “Stick it out, mainly,” Yoder said. “It’s trying to do what we can do to make it work.”
Her biggest concern?
“It’s finding what the people want, having it at a comparable price and having merchandise of good quality,” she said. “That’s a big challenge.”