BY ETHAN FORMAN
---- — SALEM — The challenge for Marie Petrucci, the owner of the new Avalanche Company Store on Front Street, is to let shoppers know that her store sells warm fleece jackets that can be found at many major retailers, but at prices that come directly from the family-owned sportswear maker.
In other words, Petrucci says, you don’t have go to the mall at 12:30 in the morning on Black Friday to take advantage of bargains at her store.
“People want to shop local,” says Petrucci, who opened the retail store for Salem-based Avalanche sportswear in September. “They don’t want to deal with all the craziness.”
Several doors down, Kate Leavy, the owner of Roost, The Beehive and Scrub, says she will not be losing any sleep on Black Friday. She plans to open her gift stores at 10 a.m. that day.
“I have plenty of customers who went to the mall on Black Friday,” Leavy said.
For many of her regulars, hunting for bargains on Black Friday is a family tradition. Then, they grab a cup of coffee and stroll around downtown. Turns out that December, Leavy said, not October, with all the frenzy surrounding Salem’s Haunted Happenings, is her busiest month of the year.
Downtown merchants on the North Shore may wonder how they can capture a slice of business from the 147 million people that the National Retail Federation estimates intend to shop during the busy holiday weekend.
Some say the Saturday after Thanksgiving may be the answer. For the third year in a row, American Express is hyping Small Business Saturday, urging holiday shoppers to spend their dollars locally on the day after Black Friday. The credit card company says 100 million people shopped local during last year’s event.
Shoppers who enroll their American Express cards online at www.ShopSmall.com can receive a $25 statement credit. Local merchants just have to be open on Nov. 24 and accept American Express cards to take part in the promotion. Enrollments are limited, and there are other caveats that cardholders and small businesses need to be aware of.
While cynics might say Small Business Saturday is meant to boost the credit card company’s bottom line, small-business owners and downtown boosters like the promotion.
“What people see is shop small, shop local shops,” said Marblehead Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Ann Marie Casey. “I’m in support of it, and so are my merchants.”
The Peabody Area Chamber of Commerce is promoting Small Business Saturday on its website.
“In my mind, there is no reason for small businesses not to participate,” said Peabody Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Deanne Healey. She said it makes sense for small-business owners to harness the power of the nationwide promotion, as it is hard for them to compete with large retailers when it comes to spending marketing dollars.
“The wheels are already in motion,” Healey said, “why not jump on the bandwagon?”
While the very name “Black Friday” might seem a perfect thing for witch-obsessed Salem to promote, Salem Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Oosthoek said the city does not have an official answer to lure shoppers to the city on Black Friday, other than the city tree lighting that evening at 6:30 in Lappin Park.
Anyway, Oosthoek said, it is impossible for local shops to be open so early in the morning the day after Thanksgiving.
“You cannot compete with the discounts at Macy’s,” Oosthoek said.
However, “we are competing and competing very well” throughout the holiday shopping season, he said.
“Salem is a great local community,” said Leavy, who buys her eclectic mix of merchandise from local artisans and craftspeople. “You know your customers, they know you.”
Salem’s downtown was given a big boost last week when the Retailers Association of Massachusetts gave it the 2012 Award of Excellence for “Best Shopping District,” the first time the state’s trade association for retailers presented such an award.
While places like the Northshore Mall allow customers to do all of their shopping under one roof, shopping locally provides a different benefit. When people shop locally, their dollars stay in the community, Peabody’s Healey said. Local businesses are more likely to support a Little League team or the local church.
The holiday shopping season is especially vital for Marblehead businesses, Casey said. Since the town is on a peninsula, there is no drive-through market. A healthy holiday season helps sustain businesses through the lean months of January, February and March.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.