Portland’s small businesses turn holiday shopping into multiweek affair

By Kyra Buckley (OPB)
Nov. 24, 2023 2 p.m.

The Win Big campaign aims to draw customers to 100 participating small businesses for the next three weeks.

Lisa Stanger, owner of Blackthorn Mercantile, straightens an ornament on her store's vintage winter holiday tree in Portland, Ore. on Nov. 21, 2023. Blackthorn Mercantile is participating in Win Big, an effort to support local businesses during the holiday shopping season.

Lisa Stanger, owner of Blackthorn Mercantile, straightens an ornament on her store's vintage winter holiday tree in Portland, Ore. on Nov. 21, 2023. Blackthorn Mercantile is participating in Win Big, an effort to support local businesses during the holiday shopping season.

Kyra Buckley / OPB

For Lisa Stanger, the day after Thanksgiving has not traditionally been a big emphasis at her home and gift shop in North Portland.

THANKS TO OUR SPONSOR:

“Historically, for my business, we didn’t really have a lot for Black Friday,” said Stanger, who owns Blackthorn Mercantile, which has two locations and four employees. “That was mostly where everybody went to the big major mall, box stores and stuff like that. So it actually deterred from small businesses.”

Stanger said “Small Business Saturday,” branded by credit card company American Express, just isn’t enough — especially this year when inflation and changing consumer habits are translating to lower margins and fewer sales. That’s why Blackthorn Mercantile is joining more than 100 other Portland businesses for the Win Big campaign, which offers incentives and prizes to shop locally through Dec. 10.

Related: Here’s how inflation is changing holiday deals and shopping

Overall, the 2023 shopping season comes as spending at retail stores of all sizes went down slightly in October, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, as consumers look to trim spending amid high inflation. Holiday shopping could help lift revenues in the final two months of the year, many economists looking at retail say, but they expect spending to fall short compared to previous years.

“The entire country is feeling a huge financial crunch,” Stanger at Blackthorn said. “I think that shopping is something that people do only if they need to purchase something for somebody else outside of their necessities. The cost of goods has gone up extensively. Families are having a real struggle trying to just provide their daily needs — so we’re not seeing the business that we’ve seen at the height of the pandemic.”

Holiday decorations, candles and other gifts for sale at Blackthorn Mercantile.

Holiday decorations, candles and other gifts for sale at Blackthorn Mercantile.

Kyra Buckley / OPB

Holiday shopping beyond Black Friday

Stimulus checks and built up savings helped push up spending for the winter shopping season the last couple years. Research from consulting firm Deloitte shows this year’s spending is going to feel more like pre-pandemic levels. Consumers expected to spend just over $1,600 on shopping during this holiday season, a modest 2.5% uptick from 2019. However, that amount includes spending on holiday entertainment and experiences, which economists predict will take a bigger share of the budget over gifts and essentials this year.

But Deloitte’s research also showed the emphasis on one major shopping day is changing, which could be especially beneficial for Portland’s small locally-owned retailers. While the day after Thanksgiving is still considered an opportunity to get major deals at big box stores like Target and Walmart, the shopping season has gradually expanded to also include Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday.

THANKS TO OUR SPONSOR:

And in Portland, there’s a dedicated effort to encourage holiday shopping at small businesses for three weeks.

Related: Shop local campaign returns to Portland after pandemic break

Win Big is an effort from Small Shops Big Hearts, the marketing arm of local small business consulting and advocacy firm Bricks Need Mortar. It aims to drive foot traffic and sales to more than 100 stores and businesses across the city, in part, by offering raffle tickets for prizes.

“People are starting to shop early, and we really want to capture those shoppers before they start shopping big box or online,” Sarah Shaoul, CEO of Bricks Need Mortar, said. “By starting it the week before Thanksgiving, we can really help people check those boxes off their list, and with the Win Big, earning those raffle entries and having a good time doing it.”

Win Big brings people into community, retailer says

The campaign is already underway. It started on Nov. 16, a full week before the Thanksgiving holiday, which has traditionally signaled the start of the end-of-year shopping season in the U.S. Shoppers can download the Win Big app, and when they arrive at one of the participating businesses they will find a QR code to scan with a smartphone. Visiting a business is worth one raffle ticket, Shaoul said, and shoppers can further improve their odds of winning by making purchases.

Shaoul said there are multiple prizes, including gift certificates for businesses around the city, tickets to Portland Thorns and Trail Blazers games, and overnight stays at luxury hotels. The grand prize is two roundtrip airline tickets.

So far, Shaoul said at least 1,300 people have signed up to play, and more than 350 purchases have been made at participating businesses.

Sarah Shaoul, CEO of Bricks Need Mortar, poses for a profile in Portland, Ore. on Nov. 21, 2023. Shaoul's local small business advocacy and consulting firm is behind Win Big.

Sarah Shaoul, CEO of Bricks Need Mortar, poses for a profile in Portland, Ore. on Nov. 21, 2023. Shaoul's local small business advocacy and consulting firm is behind Win Big.

Kyra Buckley / OPB

Related: Short on cash? No problem. ‘Buy now, pay later’ is the hottest holiday trend

Stanger at Blackthorn Mercantile has been a part of Win Big since it started in 2020. Before that, it was called Little Boxes and run by the jewelry shop Betsy & Iya. Stanger participated in Little Boxes with the children’s store she owned for about a decade before Blackthorn.

Over the years, Stanger watched the small business holiday effort grow from a two-day event, to this year now running three and a half weeks. She said it especially helps to have Small Shops Big Hearts take charge of the marketing and advertising, which is often too expensive for small retailers. And the interactive nature of the campaign brings people out into the community, she said, which often means they visit multiple stores and stay in the neighborhood for food and drinks.

“Especially right now, after the pandemic where we’ve lost and had such a huge turnover in businesses, it starts to remind us who is still out there and exists,” Stanger said. “And that way we can go and support those businesses.”

THANKS TO OUR SPONSOR:
THANKS TO OUR SPONSOR:

Related Stories