Throughout downtown Menlo Park, retailers are bracing for the holiday shopping season. As they face increasing competition from online retailers, local businesses are coming up with ways to attract shoppers.
To encourage people to shop locally on the Peninsula, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors signed a proclamation in support of "Small Business Saturday," one day of the expanding post-Thanksgiving shopping spree when small businesses are increasingly planning promotions and campaigns to foster community-oriented holiday shopping. It is held nationwide the Saturday after Thanksgiving, which this year is Nov. 30.
Small businesses, the supervisors' proclamation states, are important to not just the local economy, but to the U.S. economy more broadly.
The proclamation cites the U.S. Small Business Administration, which reports that 99.7% of all businesses in the country with paid employees are small businesses. Small businesses employ 47.3% of private-sector employees and created nearly 65% of net new jobs in the U.S. between 2000 and 2018.
However, small businesses and small retailers in particular are facing increasing challenges from online retailers. A 2019 Deloitte report predicting holiday shopping trends notes that the gap between how much holiday shoppers spend in stores compared with online is expected to continue to grow this year, with shoppers expected to do 59% of their spending online versus 36% in stores (other retail spending channels such as via catalog or direct mail promotions are counted separately, according to the report).
According to the Menlo Park Chamber of Commerce, "Every time you pick up a coffee at your local cafe, grab lunch at the mom-and-pop shop, or buy a new bag from a local store, you're making an impact in your community. In fact, for every dollar spent at a small business in the U.S., approximately 67 cents stays in the local community."
How local retailers are preparing
Emily Paul, manager and buyer at Gitane, a women's clothing store at 855 Santa Cruz Ave., said that the business started its Black Friday sale early, with discounts of up to 75% off. The business is encouraging people to shop locally through social media, and has broadened its offerings to include more gift items such as hats, scarves, jewelry, and for the first time this year, a few men's items as well.
In addition, she said, the store prides itself on its one-on-one styling guidance.
"We're hoping people think of us when they think of giving gifts," she said. "We're hoping for an increase (in sales) for sure."
Shopping locally, she added, "helps everyone in the community."
Lynn Macy, co-owner of The Pet Place, said the business has been busy and that the holidays have somewhat sneaked up on them.
While they don't have anything special planned for the major shopping weekend, the store has recently expanded its weekly hours to be open Sundays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and has stocked up on Christmas items for cats, dogs and rabbits. The shop, located at 777 Santa Cruz Ave., will also host adoptions for cats and dogs Dec. 6 through 8.
"We do have a lot of unique items from all over the country," she said. "It'd be nice for the customers to keep in mind we're local, independent, and we grew up in Menlo Park. We're not a chain."
As a small business, she said, the shop is able to offer personalized customer service and serve the community.
"We really appreciate our customers and their support, especially now with all the online pet supplies," she said.
Not all downtown retailers have decided it's worth staying open through the holiday weekend, however.
James Manganaro, owner of Bridgepoint Music at 657 Oak Grove Ave., said he's decided to stay closed. So many people leave for the Thanksgiving holiday and things get so quiet downtown that many would-be customers assume his business is closed anyway and don't bother to visit, he said.
Rather than remain open and have very few customers, he said, he's planning to let his employees enjoy the long weekend.
Over the last five years or so, he added, encouraging people to shop locally instead of online has become an "uphill battle."
The trend on the Peninsula, he said, is for retail to disappear and be replaced by food and drink establishments like coffee shops, restaurants or bars. He pointed to three retail types that currently exist on the Peninsula: niche brands that can become local suburban chains, passion projects, and those he calls a "super big struggle."
He considers his business to be in the last category. "I compete with prices from all over, but the cost of doing business is tied to the region," he said.
Nearby residents may have the means to buy locally, but that doesn't necessarily translate to shopping here and investing in the community, he said.
"I think people like the idea of having retail, but don't always think to follow through and actually give business to those places," he said.
Access a directory of small businesses in downtown Menlo Park compiled by American Express here.