Shopping small has become a big deal in the Flathead Valley.
The 10th annual Small Business Saturday will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. tomorrow. Businesses from Whitefish to Bigfork will offer special deals and prizes to promote shopping in the local community.
“More than 99% of businesses in the country are small businesses and that’s definitely true in Montana,” said Kate Lufkin, the marketing and communications manager for the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce. “They really are the backbone of Montana and our individual communities.
“It’s a great day to celebrate the people running those businesses,” she added.
The national event was started in 2009 by American Express to provide an alternative to shopping at large retailers such as big-box stores. The Kalispell and Whitefish Chambers of Commerce jumped on the trend eight years ago, and communities around the valley have been involved sporadically since then. This year, all six Flathead Valley Chambers of Commerce—Kalispell, Whitefish, Columbia Falls, Bigfork, Evergreen and Lakeside-Somers—are participating.
“It’s growing here every year,” observed Whitefish Chamber Executive Director Kevin Gartland.
This year, nearly 150 businesses across the valley are planning to participate. There will also be pop-ups featuring Flathead Valley entrepreneurs who don’t have their own storefronts. “Everybody’s got something unique and different to show,” Lufkin pointed out.
In Kalispell, the Chamber will give out gift bags full of presents and gift cards to the first 100 shoppers who show up to the Chamber building in Depot Park by 10 a.m. Last year, Lufkin said the bags were gone within a half an hour. “That’s always been very popular,” Chamber President Joe Unterreiner reported.
Park Side Credit Union will also continue its “Park Side Pays” tradition in Kalispell by randomly stopping into some of the participating stores and paying for a few shoppers’ purchases.
“It’s a little fun thing,” said Noreen Cady, business development outreach coordinator for Park Side Credit Union.
She said one of their members reportedly joined the credit union after the Park Side Pays program bought her ice cream at Sweet Peaks on Small Business Saturday. “People do remember. That’s why we continue to do it,” Cady said.
Small Business Saturday is also an opportunity to introduce locals to new and unfamiliar stores. In Whitefish and Bigfork, programs that offer free prizes for visiting a number of different shops encourage shoppers to “get people off their normal trail,” according to Bigfork Chamber Executive Director Rebekah King.
The initiative “make[s] sure to get people in and out of businesses to see the amazing things they didn’t know were in our community,” Gartland said. After all, “We are a small business community and a small business state.”
While Small Business Saturday is an eight-year tradition in Whitefish and Kalispell, the special shopping day presents a newer opportunity elsewhere in the valley.
This year, Evergreen Chamber Executive Director Connie McCubbins said local businesses encouraged her to get involved for the first time in years. She said Evergreen business owners hope Small Business Saturday will serve as an opportunity “to invite people out to Evergreen.”
“We’re here,” McCubbins stressed. “We do have great shopping out in Evergreen.”
Other smaller communities throughout the Flathead also hope the event will help raise awareness of lesser-known businesses.
Columbia Falls Chamber Executive Director Laura Gadwa said the event is great for “just bringing awareness to all the small businesses we have…especially with the amount of businesses that have opened” recently.
Likewise, in Lakeside, new business owner Beckie Johnson hopes Small Business Saturday will draw shoppers farther south. The new head of Lakeside Salon is hosting an event in the Lakeside Mercantile building featuring Stageline Pizza, pop-up artists, $10 haircuts and free mimosas. “Hopefully we get people to stop in Lakeside,” Johnson said.
“Both the communities of Lakeside and Somers depend heavily on the locals who shop small all year round,” Ali Binder, executive director of the Lakeside-Somers Chamber, pointed out.
After 10 years, Small Business Saturday has gained plenty of success and staying power. In Kalispell, Sara and Ryan Breweger at Flair Gifts and Cards said they have participated every year since opening their store in 2014, because Small Business Saturday has been a busier shopping day for their store than Black Friday.
“It’s our biggest sales day of the whole year,” Sara said. “We like to see people come out and shop small.”
Reporter Bret Anne Serbin may be reached at 758-4459 or firstname.lastname@example.org.