Small business Saturday extended to restaurants, bars

.D. Harrison (c) 2014, The Washington Post. WASHINGTON — Small Business Saturday has gained traction across the country over the past four years, steering shoppers toward small retailers and helping shopkeepers seize a larger share of the billions of dollars Americans spend on the weekend after Thanksgiving.

Now the Obama administration hopes to help send some of those shoppers toward locally owned bars and restaurants, too.

The Small Business Administration has teamed up with the National Restaurant Association to promote a new wrinkle on the campaign, encouraging those already out shopping with small retailers to also dine and drink at small, independently owned restaurants and bars on Saturday. Dubbing the campaign Small Business Saturday Night, officials are hoping it will help jump-start holiday sales for entrepreneurs in the food and beverage industry.

“Local restaurants pack a big punch to our nation’s economy as part of the economic powerhouse that is American small businesses,” SBA Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet said in announcing the partnership this week. She noted that restaurateurs are expected to add 1.3 million jobs over the next decade and that more than 90 percent of them have fewer than 50 employees.

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American Express started the Small Business Saturday campaign four years ago to push shoppers toward small retailers on the day after Black Friday, and many shopkeepers have responded by offering one-day deals and promotions to capitalize on growing awareness of the day. SBA officials are encouraging restaurant and bar owners to do the same with special menus and later-than-normal hours to lure diners their way.

In promoting the initiative, Contreras-Sweet and other government officials have visited a number of eateries along the East Coast this week, including I Ricchi in the District of Columbia. Owner Christianne Ricchi said she hopes Small Business Saturday Night will gain traction with the same speed as its retail-focused counterpart.

“Independent, privately owned businesses are a very important part of the community, whether it’s a retail shop or a florist or a restaurant,” she said in an interview, adding that any effort to promote “shopping small” is more than welcome. This Saturday, her restaurant will offer a free glass of wine to celebrate Small Business Saturday as well as I Ricchi’s 25th anniversary. (Patrons must simply say “25.”)

She pointed out that independently owned restaurants face a number of pressing challenges, particularly in cities such as Washington that have become increasingly appealing to outside restaurant groups.

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“We’re vying for the same space, and they can usually afford to pay more, which pushes our rents higher,” Ricchi said. She added that it’s important to “preserve small businesses because they’re really what lends a distinct color to our neighborhoods.”

Contreras-Sweet, who moved to the United States from Mexico in 1985, also has used this week to highlight the important role of immigrant entrepreneurs.

On Saturday, she and several other officials will take their tour to the restaurant Lauriol Plaza in the District of Columbia, owned by Raul Sanchez, who also owns Cactus Cantina. Sanchez, who moved from Cuba to the United States in his early 20s, started working as a busboy in a Cuban eatery in the District of Columbia but decades later owns two popular restaurants in the city.

Earlier in the week, Contreras-Sweet promoted the campaign during an event at Bogota Latin Bistro in Brooklyn, which is co-owned by a Colombian entrepreneur.

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It’s not the only new twist on Small Business Saturday. SBA officials and Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., held an event Monday at Americana Grocery, owned by Cuban native Joe Rodriguez, in Silver Spring, Maryland. He called on Americans to shop for their Thanksgiving feasts at locally owned grocery stores.

In addition, American Express this year has partnered with the online marketplace Etsy to connect home-based artisans with brick-and-mortar retailers willing to host their trunk shows.

For more information on Small Business Saturday: