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Sales clerk Jeanne Bertrand of Sasso Jewelry and Gifts shows a ring to Cara Gaughan. Saturday marks the third Small Business Saturday — a day economic and business owners celebrate the efforts of small businesses.
The water-cooler talk among women at Illinois Valley Community College seemed to focus on bras several years ago.
Not about sales or advances in fashion. But rather complaints: the strap is too loose, too tight, the cups don’t fit...and so on.
Kathy Glascock took part in those conversations. And after a little research, she discovered there was nowhere in the Illinois Valley for women to get a perfectly custom-fit bra.
So in 2008, she opened Girlfriends, the bra specialists in Peru and the small business continues to thrive. More than 8,000 people, many repeat customers, from 42 different states and five countries have personally shopped in her store.
“For me, sitting still isn’t good enough so I figured I might as well find something silly to do,” Glascock said.
Small businesses such as Glascock’s are the backbone of the U.S. economy. Roughly 60 percent of Americans work in small businesses, not for corporate giants including Wal-Mart or Caterpillar.
American Express created the first Small Business Saturday in 2010. It is purposefully sandwiched between Black Friday and Cyber Monday in an effort to encourage shoppers to visit local merchants.
It also serves as a way to celebrate the risk small businesses owners take and the economic benefits communities and the country enjoy as a result.
“Shopping locally is fundamentally economic development at its best,” said Beverly Malooley, director of the Small Business Development Center at IIVCC. “Shopping locally is central to developing, growing, and supporting small business owners and their companies. And typically the customers and employees live in communities where these small businesses are located.”
Studies show for every dollar spent at a local business 70 cents stays local. But if that dollar were spent at a national corporation, less than 40 cents stays in the local economy.
“Communities with a greater number of small businesses can in the long run provide higher-paying jobs and are less prone to economic hardships over time,” Malooley said.
Illinois Valley Area Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development executive director Marci Duro said small businesses are typically defined as having fewer than 250 employees for manufacturing businesses and less than $7 million in annual receipts for most non-manufacturing businesses.
“Entrepreneurship fuels America’s economic innovation and prosperity,” she said. “In essence, the largest portion of business in the Illinois Valley area is small business. It has a reputation of putting revenue back into the local economy and enriching the whole community. As it enriches the whole community it also makes a community as each entity is unique and special in and of itself, building pride in everything around it.”
Uptown Grill owner Ray Anderes said his restaurant is one of the busiest independent restaurants in Illinois outside of the Chicagoland area.
Building a business to that point is difficult and requires a small business owner to have a variety of attitudes and abilities such as squeezing a nickel until it screams.
“Although now, I think it’s more like squeezing a penny until it screams,” Anderes said. “In the beginning you’re worried about just surviving but over time your concerns switch to making improvements that will draw more customers.”
Anderes said his restaurant has benefited from advances in local tourism and technology.
“In the past, tourists would come into town and stop at a place they saw along the way,” he said. “Now, people can look up on their cell phones and get a restaurant review which really helps.”
Spring Valley economic development director Debb Ladgenski says small businesses not only supply local governments with tax dollars but they support a number of civic organizations such as little league or Spring Valley Boosters.
“The city depends on sales tax revenue to run our city and those revenues are generated by our small businesses,” she said. “I can’t say enough about them.”
Drew Bernabei and his wife Denise have owned and operated Sasso Jewelry and Gifts in La Salle for 20 years. Business for them has been fairly steady.
But recently, they’ve found downtown La Salle is becoming a magnet for mom-and-pop type businesses and the clientele they attract.
“American Express’ Small Business Saturday is a wonderful effort to support what we do,” Drew Bernabei said. “It makes people aware of small businesses and the importance we have on our communities.”
Bernabei said owning a small business and supporting them is a community mindset.
“We always say: ‘Think local, be local, buy local, and give local,’” Bernabei said. “That’s our motto.”