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“Shop Small” movement draws customers to downtown Watertown

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Everyone of a certain age remembers the tradition of Christmas shopping in downtown Watertown: chatting with the shop owner, finding just the right gift not sold at larger stores, running into Canadians who are trying to take advantage of Small Business Saturday deals they heard about on Facebook.

Canadians? Small Business Saturday? Facebook?

The owners are still there, the sometimes quirky offerings are still a draw, but the other three components haven’t traditionally been part of the downtown shopping equation. Until now.

Contingents of Canadian shoppers have been making Watertown a destination since the Salmon Run Mall opened in the 1980s, but few venture away from outer Arsenal Street and fewer still find their way downtown. But the combination of Small Business Saturday — a “Shop Small” program conceived by American Express in 2010 — and Facebook resulted in at least some Canadians looking for deals Saturday at the Paddock Arcade.

“They know about us,” said Lee Ellsworth, co-owner of Paddock Arts & Antiques. “They know about ‘Shop Small.’ They came down just for that.”

Mr. Ellsworth said the shop has a few followers from Canada on Facebook, with one customer contacting him through the online social network and inquiring whether the shop was going to be open Saturday and whether it was participating in Small Business Saturday. The program is designed to encourage shoppers to visit smaller stores on the weekend between Black Friday and Cyber Monday. American Express provides stores with bags and signs bearing the “Shop Small” logo, among other promotions.

““Shop Small” is usually the start of (the Christmas season) for us,” Mr. Ellsworth said. “Last year was very good. This morning was very quiet, but it really picked right up. Just before noon, it got really busy.”

Michael V. Martini, of Avon Shoes & Orthopedic Center, 67 Public Square, said more customers seemed to be aware of the small business promotion this year and there was “definitely a little uptick” in business because of it, citing his first customer of the day Saturday, who had seen a notice of the promotion in the morning and decided to act on it.

“She said, ‘I saw it’s Small Business Saturday. I’m going downtown to get new boots,’” Mr. Martini said. “There’s been chatter on our Facebook page all week about it. I think it’s catching on, I really do.”

Lorri A. Monaghan, manager of the Agape Shoppe, 136 Court St., said business was brisk Saturday, with one customer telling her they were there because they wanted to support Small Business Saturday “and this is where they decided to put their money.”

“If they said it out loud, there were probably 10 more who were here because of it,” she said.

Mark G. Waterbury, owner of Waterbury Fine Jewelers in the Top of the Square shops, said no customer specifically mentioned the Small Business Saturday promotion, although the business has the “Shop Small” logo on its front door. Still, he said, “it’s been a good day.” Patty L. Daub, a Waterbury employee, said that while customers may not have mentioned the program, several said they preferred to shop at smaller stores.

“They’d rather shop with us. They like the personal attention we can give them and they don’t have to fight the crowds,” Ms. Daub said. “They’d rather shop small, and we certainly appreciate it.”

Not all downtown businesses appeared to benefit greatly from the program. Joseph J. King, manager of Dr. Guitar, 154 Court St., said he was having a normal busy Saturday, but had not heard about the small business promotion. However, he amended that thought a bit when, late in the day, a customer bought items using an American Express “Shop Small” gift card she had won at a Greater Watertown-North Country Chamber of Commerce “Business After Hours” event.

April L. Johnson, owner of April’s Cake Shop, 20 Public Square, said she offered free hot cocoa and a 10 percent discount to customers in recognition of Small Business Saturday, but mostly catered to her usual clientele. She said her business typically is busier in the summer, although winter weekends are also busy as she prepares special orders. She is hoping for a busy Friday, when the city hosts its annual Christmas tree lighting on Public Square and its holiday parade, which this year will pass through downtown. For those events, she again is offering free hot cocoa and a 10 percent discount, with an ugly Christmas sweater contest added to the festive mix.

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