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Perks designed to boost downtown Santa Fe retailers on Small Business Saturday

November 26, 2018

If parking meters usually keep you away from downtown stores, retailers’ goodwill on Small Business Saturday might just put you in the holiday shopping spirit.

Free parking meters and a sales tax holiday Saturday, Nov. 24, are local enticements within the national Small Business Saturday campaign to draw shoppers to Santa Fe’s small businesses.

For the eighth year, the city of Santa Fe and about 50 downtown merchants are collaborating to provide two hours of free parking at meters on all Saturdays from Thanksgiving to Christmas. The merchants, at $100 each, collectively gave the city $5,000 so the city could offer the free parking on holiday Saturdays.

“People thank us for the free parking,” said Rick Remington, owner of Marcy Street Cards on Marcy Street. “Parking is probably the biggest issue for downtown merchants to begin with. Meters are expensive.”

The Legislature this year approved a sales tax holiday for this Saturday at small businesses with 10 or fewer employees, though franchise businesses are not included. The limit for a tax-free item is $500.

Andrea Fisher Fine Pottery, the San Francisco Street shop that focuses on Native American and Mata Ortiz pottery, is combining the tax-free shopping up to $500 by offering free shipping Saturday for items costing more than $500, Marketing Director Derek Fisher said.

But the holiday season at Andrea Fisher doesn’t really kick in until after Christmas.

“The time between Christmas and New Year’s is when people come to shop together,” Fisher said. “You are buying this for yourself. Art is a personal thing. Art is generally not given as a gift. We’re very, very specialized.”

American Express started Small Business Saturday in 2010 as a promotion during the recession. The concept, also branded as Shop Small, caught on immediately. In 2011, the U.S. Senate designated the Saturday after Thanksgiving as Small Business Saturday. Cities around the country quickly adopted the idea, whether signing up with the American Express program or on their own.

In 2011, Design Warehouse owner Larry Keller convinced 50 to 60 downtown merchants in Santa Fe to chip in $100 apiece to convince the city to offer two hours of free parking at meters downtown and on Guadalupe Street.

“If we want people to shop downtown, we have to show them some love, give them something,” Keller said.

Numerous merchants have put in the $100 every year.

“Yay, free parking — absolutely it’s important,” said Sarah Worden, general manager of the Charlotte Santa Fe jewelry store on the Plaza. “They can spend more money in the store instead of parking.”

At Marcy Street Cards, Remington calculates he sees four times as much business on Black Friday and Small Business Saturday than on any other Friday or Saturday of the year. He believes half of that increased business is because of free parking.

The city accepts the merchants’ payment in lieu of fees from its 1,100 parking meters to encourage people to do some holiday shopping downtown.

“This initiative is a small gesture that we hope will have a large impact, boosting local business and easing the stress that is so common this time of year,” Mayor Alan Webber said in a news release.

Local merchants and the National Retail Federation say Small Business Saturday is firmly rooted in many shoppers’ minds. The federation estimates 76 percent of the 71 million expected shoppers Saturday will target small businesses.

Shiprock Santa Fe has chipped in the $100 each year of the free parking campaign.

“It encourages people to come downtown on the weekend,” said Paul Elmore, the gallery’s director. “It does seem our Saturday business is better than Black Friday.”

The Santa Fe Indian Market is high season for Spirit of the Earth, an eclectic clothing and jewelry shop on Don Gaspar Avenue. But the holiday season also brings people in, especially with two hours of free parking.

“It means a lot because a lot of people don’t want to come downtown and pay the exorbitant parking fees,” said Kat Lowry, a sales associate at Spirit of the Earth. The two hours of free parking “affords them time to walk around.”

The colorful clothing is personally secured by co-owner Gayatri Malmed, whose husband, Tony Malmed, crafts the jewelry showcased at the center of the store. Shoppers mix gifting and self-indulgence at Spirit of the Earth.

“They want to buy something special for someone else but also for themselves,” Lowry said. “One for me, one for you.”

Even in smaller towns, Small Business Saturday has a presence. The Los Alamos Chamber of Commerce participates in the American Express Small Business Saturday program, with about 80 merchants taking part — the most yet, chamber Director Ryn Herrmann said.

For every $25 spent at a participating business in Los Alamos or White Rock, shoppers get a raffle ticket. The holder of the winning ticket gets $1,000, and the store selling the ticket gets $500. There are is a $500 prize and four $250 prizes.

The raffle and $2,000 in gift cards are funded by Los Alamos National Bank. Herrmann also planned to buy about 40 gift cards that would be given to selected people completing a scavenger hunt.

“The holiday shopping season makes and breaks and lot of business, especially small ones,” Herrmann said. “We’re trying to get people to think local about holiday shopping. We’re trying to keep people on the Hill and offline.”

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