The rainy morning after Black Friday, images of customers pitching tents outside big-box stores and standing in endless lines at corporate retailers flooded into the mom-and-pop shops on 16th Street through the television, the airwaves and the front page of the morning edition. For many small business owners on the avenue grinding through another weekend workday behind their cash drawers, the frenzy was a sour reminder of the distance between customers’ ideals and actions.
“The comments on my Facebook page say ‘Yay! Shop local!’ … but I think a lot of people who say they do don’t, necessarily,” said Sasha Darling, who owns BellJar, a boutique near the corner of Guerrero Street.
For the past three years Darling had offered special promotions between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but not this year. Below the “OPEN” sign on her front door is posted a flier for “Small Business Saturday,” a campaign American Express kicked off this year to encourage consumers to buy local. When customers charge $25 or more on their American Express cards at participating businesses, they receive a $25 statement credit.
Darling isn’t as enthusiastic about the credit card company’s deal as she is about the upcoming Mission Holiday Block Party, an annual promotional event she helped create three years ago, replete with food carts, live music and discounted merchandise. It’s scheduled for December 10.
At the front of Darling’s shop, Rena Gabriel picked up a glass owl Christmas ornament, dangled it in front of her young son, then put it back. On Friday, Gabriel and her husband made a few large purchases at Home Depot and Target. On Saturday, the Mission family browsed their neighborhood shops.
“Might as well support the community,” Gabriel said. “I know it’s a contradiction to the Target thing.”
When asked if she was wearing or carrying anything purchased in the Mission, Gabriel looked herself up and down, searched her shoulder bag and, finding nothing, asked her husband and son if they were wearing anything “local.” Her husband shrugged.
“Wherever you can get a good deal, right?” she said. “That’s the bottom line.”
At Candystore Collective, another boutique nearby, owner Jennifer Jones reported in an e-mail a significant rise in business at the store over the weekend, and said “it’s looking like the holiday season will be very, very good for us, and we will see a significant pick up over the last two years.”**
“This weekend was 32 percent above last year and actually one of the best Saturday’s, and weekends, we have had in our six-year history,” she added. “It’s true that local boutiques do not reap the Black Friday reward of droves of shoppers, but we never have. More so because the big box store bargain hunter is not our customer. I never anticipate a big weekend after Thanksgiving because most of our customers are out of town visiting family or traveling. We generally don’t see a holiday spike until the Monday after Thanksgiving, and this has been true for the entire time I have owned the store.”
But this year, that spike came early.
Gabriel said she looks to neighborhood venues for “unique” items.
One block away, near the corner of Valencia Street, is Forest Books, a hub for literature on Pacific Rim culture. Behind the front counter, owner Gregory Wood called Black Friday a key example of the “mass hallucination” of corporate advertising.
By contrast, Mission businesses serve niche markets that thrive in San Francisco’s “burg economy,” Wood said. Still, he admitted, the rising holiday tide floats all boats. “December is the month we need to stay afloat.”
Scott Mitchell wrapped a string of lights around a miniature fake Christmas tree inside Artist Xchange.
“We look forward to [the holiday season], but it starts later here than at the big-box stores,” Mitchell said. “We’d like to see that trend change.”
The holiday season offers little comfort, however, to Sri Ananda, an eight-year employee at Adobe Books. Sales at the used bookstore are “unpredictable,” he said. “A rainy day can go two ways.”
Staff at Idol Vintage acknowledged the holiday by placing mannequins donning Santa hats in the front window display.
“We have a section of holiday sweaters, mostly for ugly sweater parties,” employee Steve Brunolli said. “The day someone buys one seriously, I don’t know…”
**CORRECTION: Due to misinformation, the state of business at Candystore Collective on Saturday was previously misstated.