AYER -- While most people were cozily tucked away at home on Thanksgiving evening, watching football or sleeping off bellies full of turkey and pie, Tracie Ezzio was exactly where folks can usually find her: Standing behind the counter of her business, the Pepperell Family Pharmacy. And she wasn't without customers.
"People get sick 365 days a year," she said. "It made my Thanksgiving; people said 'Thank you for coming in here.'"
It is this kind of dedication on the part of local business owners to their communities that American Express's Small Business Saturday hoped to highlight. Since 2010, American Express has promoted the national incentive to shop local, offering American Express cardholders a $25 rebate if they used their cards at small, local businesses on the Saturday following Black Friday. Although the initiative hasn't gotten quite as much publicity as its Friday predecessor, the program has been picking up steam in the past three years.
"It's just a reminder on American Express's part to remind people, before they go to the mall, before they go to a big ticket store, to try to see what they can find locally," said Wanda Pero, owner of Unique Boutique in Townsend.
Nick Laggis, owner of the P.N. Laggis Men's Clothing in Ayer, was one of a few local businesses that was advertising for Small Business Saturday, with $10 off of any purchase over $60. Laggis said over the past three years, he has seen Small Business Saturday take off a bit more each year, with customers mentioning it more and more, and he expects that trend will continue.
"People come in and say they saw (advertisements) for it. It makes them more aware of what's going on," he said. "I think it's just starting to take off. People hear about it on the radio now. Like Black Friday, it will come a little more every year."
In Pepperell, Alan St. Croix of the Pepperell Music Center also offered incentives to appeal to customers on Black Friday and Small Business Saturday, with a balloon-pop sale, during which customers could pop a balloon and receive a coupon for an unspecified percentage off their purchases. Like Laggis, St. Croix said he has seen an increase in customer awareness of the weekend sale over the past several years.
"I would definitely say over the past couple of years this acts as a better weekend," he said. "More and more people are realizing that getting out to support small businesses is really supporting the local economy."
Ezzio said she feels that people are becoming more interested in shopping locally as opposed to at large chain stores.
"I think a lot of people, from listening to comments from my own business, are not looking for big bargains anymore. They're looking for service that a small community business can give, so that makes me extremely encouraged."
Although she has not noticed a particular spike in business for Small Business Saturday over the past several years, Ezzio said there is more behind the national incentive than merely an increase in sales.
"The attention it gives is positive for small business," she said. "It makes people realize that its our small businesses that support (the town)."
Keith Hutchins, owner of the Flower Hutch in Townsend, said although he also had not noticed an increase in business for Small Business Saturday, he thought the concept was "phenomenal."
"I welcome the help of any group that wants to help highlight family-owned businesses and small businesses and shopping locally," he said. "Most of the businesses in this town are family owned. You are supporting local people."
But, he said, he felt that a few of the hitches and details needed to be worked out. For instance, according to the flyer he received from American Express, cardholders have to enroll their credit cards online, and enrollment is limited. This, said Hutchins, is something cardholders need to know. Also, he said, he received notice of the event only a couple of days in advance. With some reorganizing, he said, he hoped the program would really take off in the future.
"I think it's a great program, but I think the American Express company, I think they have to offer the specifics a little earlier," he said. "People get blindsided with Black Friday and with malls and things such as that. As a small business, I would love to see this (event held) a week later, when people calm down and can look at it and understand what the rules are."
Some other businesses, as well as the presidents of the Townsend and Pepperell business associations, had not yet heard of the program. Still, they supported the greater message behind it and hoped it would branch out even more broadly in the future.
"As president of the Pepperell Business Association, we want to promote local business and to shop locally," said Derek Ten Broek. "I haven't heard about it, but I'm definitely for it."
"It helps support people in the community around you," said Matt Evans of Evans on the Common in Townsend, "and in these times, that's important."