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Retailers gear up for Small Business Saturday

The Queen of Kettle Corn. Photo- Abe Aboraya/WMFE
The Queen of Kettle Corn. Photo- Abe Aboraya/WMFE

There are only four weekends until Christmas-  including Black Friday weekend, when 140 million Americans are expected to hit the stores in search of a good deal.

The Florida Retail Federation is forecasting a 5 percent increase in sales this holiday season over last year.

That’s better than the national average, fueled by snow birds and tourists who also shop.

As well as the big box stores, small businesses are preparing for their busiest weekend of the year.

Denise Stone adds a scoop of sugar to the oil and popcorn kerns heating up on the cast iron kettle. She stirs with a wooden spoon and then …

Voila! Sweet and salty kettle corn, a treat for folks at the Winter Park Farmer’s Market on a rainy Saturday morning. Stone, wearing a plastic face shield and cowboy hat, calls herself the queen of kettle corn.

“People would say to me well, who’s gonna buy popcorn at 7 o’clock in the morning? And I just looked at them and said watch me. And 16 years later I’m quite busy now," says Stone.

"This is a slow day because of the rain. I usually have a line down to the rail road track.”

The Saturday after thanksgiving won’t be so slow for Mountain Kettle Korn. Stone expects to cook up to 350 pounds of popcorn for patrons, 100 pounds more than the typical weekend.

And that means more crew and more supplies.

"On a typical day, if we did four to five pound bags of popcorn, I’ll hit six to seven 50-pound bags of popcorn.”

Americans spent $5.7 billion in 2013 on Small Business Saturday. That’s according to American Express, the company that spearhearded the small business push back in 2010.

And money spent locally stays locally at a higher rate: For every $100 spent at a small business. $68 stays in the area. For large firms, $43 stays local.

Local economist Hank Fishkind says it's an attempt to shift sales from big national merchants towards small businesses.

“So it will probably be somewhat successful," he says

"It was somewhat successful last year, but it doesn’t necessarily increase the total volume of retail sales.”

For companies like The Ancient Olive, a Park Avenue tasting room specializing in balsamic vinegars and infused olive oil – Saturday is actually busier than Black Friday.

Manager Tracy Kuch sees a lot of local return customers.

“Having them in the shop on that day is extremely  important for us. Because they are kind of like the soul of our business, and they keep us going.”

Kuch even sees a slice of the I-Drive tourist market.

“They’ll eventually make it up to Winter Park and they will visit the avenue as well, even though they’re visiting Disney or one of the other parks.”

Avalon Park retirees Rosemary and Steve Smith carried a bag of kettle corn from the farmers market. Smith says she and her husband usually come to the famer’s market once a month, and stroll Park Avenue’s shops when they do.

They like supporting local businesses, both in Winter Park and in Avalon Park.

“It is important to us that the big boxes don’t put them out of business,” says Rosemary Smith.

But they aren’t keen on Black Friday’s craziness.

“One of our daughters loves it," says Smith.

"She plans it she actually brings treats for the sales people to thank them for coming in early on black Friday so she can go shopping. So she’s a big shopper, but not so much us.”

The rain last Saturday didn’t stop Park Avenue shoppers. They took coffee breaks to get out of the rain and the sidewalk cafes served up Bloody Marys and Mimosas.

With the biggest shopping weekend of the year coming up, the forecast – both for rain and profits – is a little brighter this year.