The holiday shopping season kicks off this weekend and officials are reminding gift-seekers to not overlook local businesses, especially on Small Business Saturday.

The holiday shopping season kicks off this weekend and officials are reminding gift-seekers to not overlook local businesses, especially on Small Business Saturday.

This shopping holiday, held the Saturday after Thanksgiving, was created in 2010 by American Express as an alternative to Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The initiative shifts the focus from large retail and e-commerce stores to Main Street mom-and-pop businesses.

“Small Business Saturday is a national recognition effort to impress upon consumers to use their local businesses for the holiday shopping season so monies stay local, rather than shopping online or by catalog, where no monies come back to the local economy,” said Karen Duffield, executive director of the Greater Georgetown Chamber of Commerce.

While there is no data available specifically for the First State, Jim Provo, spokesman for the Delaware Small Business Administration, said last year more than 69 million people in the United States shopped locally on Small Business Saturday, spending about $5.5 billion.

“The initiative benefits small businesses in Delaware as well as throughout the country by bringing awareness to the public about shopping small,” Provo said. “I’m not saying anything negative about big box stores; but it’s nice to support small businesses as well. Money spent locally goes right back into the local economy and promotes local jobs.”

Julie Wheatley, director of Sussex County Economic Development, said Small Business Saturday provides a more diverse shopping experience.

“You go to the big stores on Black Friday to see what’s out there and if you want something more customized or individualized, you visit the small stores,” Wheatley said. “It’s not that I don’t value our big stores; but when you’re personalizing your gifts it helps to have that local option.”

Many small businesses hold special sales and events for Small Business Saturday; however the initiative has yet to catch on with consumers in central Sussex County.

Donna Koskey, owner of Chardon LTD Jewelers on The Circle in Georgetown, said she will provide refreshments on Nov. 30 and will kick off a half-price, half-carat diamond stud earring set sale. As an American Express client, Koskey said she’s encouraged to participate by the credit card giant. However even though the jewelry store has recognized Small Business Saturday since its inception, Koskey said she has not yet noticed a significant impact on sales for that day.

“It’s such a new project that I can’t really say at this point I can measure an increase,” she said. “I think it should be a few more years before we really see a difference.”

Koskey added that she thinks Small Business Saturday is wonderful and is an absolute great thing for local businesses.

Lisa Sumstine, executive director of the Milton Chamber of Commerce, said the town is still getting its feet wet with the Small Business Saturday concept.

“All of our stores will be open downtown because it’s a big shopping weekend; but we honestly don’t think we’ll see a lot of people,” Sumstine said, adding the town’s small businesses have established their own featured shopping day, the annual Holly Festival, scheduled this year for Dec. 14. Many downtown merchants participate in this event, decorating their stores and selling gifts and holiday treats.

To bolster awareness for Small Business Saturday, Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) released a statement last week saying Delaware communities are lucky to have many locally-owned businesses to visit as the holiday shopping season approaches.

“I encourage shoppers to visit their neighborhood small businesses in Delaware every day but especially on Nov. 30, Small Business Saturday,” Carper said. “We need to boost our national economy, but we can’t forget to also lend a hand to main street businesses right here in the First State.”