Each year, millions of eager holiday shoppers around the country flock to major retailers in search of special savings and doorbusting deals on the day after Thanksgiving, traditionally known as Black Friday.
Many follow suit the following Monday, a day that has been designated Cyber Monday, the busiest day of the year for online shopping. In between those two large shopping days falls a day for the less technology savvy or those who prefer to avoid the crowds and support locally owned businesses.
Small Business Saturday, which will take place this Saturday, between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, is sponsored by American Express and the U.S. Small Business Administration, and is a day designed to encourage shoppers to patronize small businesses in their communities.
Greg Baedke, co-owner of Community Orchards, organizes a customized gift box which they can ship to recipients anywhere in the United States.
Local small business owners say large selections of specialty items, along with a personal touch, are what will make shopping locally owned shops a unique experience this holiday season.
"We have a lot of unique one-of-a-kind items," said Marcia Mullins, manager at 2be Trendy, a Central Avenue shop specializing in women's fashions, bridal and formal wear. "Our prices stay reasonable and you get a special touch of customer service at a small business."
The shop is celebrating its first anniversary in business this weekend, and will feature special buy-one-get-one sales on purses, jewelry and tops, along with 20 percent off storewide sales and specials on gift certificates throughout the month.
"We're excited to be a part of what is going on around downtown," Mullins said.
Marilyn Simonson, owner of Wicker Jewelers in downtown Fort Dodge, said it is important to shop locally owned small businesses any time of year because they often offer specialized services that would not be available in the community if the business did not exist.
"We're here because of what we can do," said Simonson. "We can do watch band replacements, jewelry repairs; things we can get done the same day while you wait. You don't always have that service at a bigger store. People come in to small businesses knowing you're people they can trust. It's important to shop locally because these are services you might not get if you don't shop those stores."
Simonson said Wicker's offers a large selection of jewelry including diamonds, watches, Add-A-Pearl and Add-A-Link as well as gift items not found elsewhere.
"We've got a good selection of personalized baby and christening gifts and religious items, and Seiko musical clocks, I don't think you can get those anywhere else; they pretty much sell themselves," she said.
At the Community Orchard north of Fort Dodge, a wide variety of gift and specialty items are available for giving and shipping to anywhere in the United States.
"We offer a lot of signature items," said Lois Pannkuk, a sales associate at the Community Orchard. "One of the big things we do are gift baskets which we can fill with our signature items and we can ship those nationally."
Pannkuk said the Community Orchard is a small business which supports other small businesses by offering their products for sale in the orchard's retail shop.
"We always try to support the local Iowa companies," she said. "We get our beer breads from Sac City, our popcorn comes from Sac County. We're a local business supporting local businesses."
The orchard's gift baskets range in size and price and feature signature items made specifically for the Community Orchard as well as other Iowa-grown and Iowa-made products.
"We started with apples and built from there," said Pannkuk. "We can ship everything from apples to our fudge and toffee. We have prepackaged gift boxes and a lot of people like to customize."
"Our customers have been here, they know what is good and our products ship all over," said Pannkuk. "The gift boxes are a standard; it's what our orchard family wants and we will go out of our way to make them special."
Thyme to Shop offers a selection of decor, clothing and other merchandise which changes with the seasons, Owner Deb Lacina said.
"We offer a lot of seasonal items," said Lacina. "And our clothing line has expanded; we have quite a few unique clothing items."
Homemade dessert items and holiday pies from the business' eatery, Tea Thyme, can also be ordered at the shop.
'The personal service we can offer is one thing that sets us apart," said Lacina. "We know many of our customers by name; they come from all over. Small businesses are important. It can be hard to compete with big business, but when you offer the personal service and attention to detail it makes a difference."