Customers shop local on Small Business

Customers shop local on Small Business
December 03
00:00 2015
Winston-Salem Black Chamber President Randon Pender led the tour of black-owned businesses on Saturday.

By Todd Luck

The Chronicle

Downtown businesses enjoyed an influx of shoppers over the weekend for Small Business Saturday.

Small Business Saturday was founded by American Express in 2010 as a way to draw shoppers to small businesses the day after Black Friday. The Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce distributed materials to help shops promote the day and businesses could also request materials directly from American Express.

Body and Soul, a cultural gift store on Trade Street, was decked out in blue signs and pennants for the occasion. Those manning the register wore “Shop Small” buttons and tote bags with the slogan were given to some customers. Store co-owner Dana Suggs warmly greeted customers, many of whom made a special trip just to support the store that day.

“This weekend generates a lot of energy and sales, definitely,” said Suggs. “It surely does kick off the holiday season for us.”

Suggs had a steady stream of customers buying things like scented oils, handbags and jewelry. Then a bus came with more than a dozen shoppers taking the Winston-Salem Black Chamber of Commerce’s tour of local black-owned businesses. They crowded into the store looking over its wares – including art, books, clothing and soaps– and lining up at the register to buy them.

Black Chamber President Randon Pender said the tour, now in its second year, educates shoppers about black-owned businesses. Though they did stop at several to shop, bringing everything from furniture to candy back with them to the bus, the tour mainly exposes them to businesses they can keep in mind for future shopping.

“It’s just to get it in people’s mind that when you’re looking for products and services, think local, and think community,” she said.

Body and Soul opened in 2003 and has grown a loyal customer base. Suggs said that it’s her unique items that can’t be found in other stores that attract shoppers. She said Thanksgiving weekend is the start of her busiest shopping season as customers flock in to buy gifts.

The bus also stopped by Elasya B’s Candy Tree on Fourth Street, which sells its own unique items of the edible kind. Bus riders bought sweets or just sat down and relaxed in the candy store’s dining and event room, which featured a large television playing kid’s movies and a  Christmas tree. Elasya B’s is owned by Elaysa Jessup, who opened the store in 2013 at just nine years old. She started selling her parent’s candy apples in her neighborhood and then tried it at a kiosk in Hanes Mall. She was so successful her family opened the store, which her mother and father, Shannon and Shannon Jessup, were working at on Saturday.

The store offers the usual jawbreakers and candy bars, but the main draw, according to Shannon Jessup, is the sweets handmade by Mr. Jessup and his wife. They include cotton candy, ice cream, Italian ice, marshmallows, made-to-order cakes, and 100 varieties of candy apples. caramel, cheesecake, strawberry and blueberry candy apples are available, and the Jessups will even take customer requests for new flavors.

Mr. Jessup said that they got a steady stream of customers when they opened on Saturday. He said sales tend to pick up as shoppers come in to buy sweets for themselves and also as gifts for others. Candy apples in holiday colors and decorated like ornaments, which some customers have remarked are too pretty to eat, are available. He said he appreciated the exposure that Small Saturday gives the store during the holiday season.

“I think it’s an awesome idea,” he said. “We need to support small business because small business makes up a huge portion of the economy. And we have to support small business because small business, I believe, takes care of our neighborhoods.”

Allen Younger, director of Forsyth Tech’s Small Business Center, said that Saturday was a major sales day for the small businesses he’s heard from. He said the day gives great exposure for small businesses, but he hopes shoppers will keep them in mind for the rest of the year too.

“They need support every single day,” he said.

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