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Sabrina Smith, right, the owner of the Green Light in downtown Missoula, helps out during the 2016 Small Business Saturday. She says the event is the biggest sales day of the year for most small businesses like hers.

KIRA VERCRUYSSEN, Missoulian

Sabrina Smith, the owner of the Green Light in downtown Missoula, is one of the many local entrepreneurs who depend on Small Business Saturday.

Her store specializes in eco-friendly gifts, kitchen supplies, apparel and locally made arts and crafts. She doesn’t try to compete with Amazon, and like many brick-and-mortar small retail stores in Montana, she separates herself from online mega-retailers by providing friendly customer service and unique items.

“Small Business Saturday our biggest day of the year,” she said. “It’s all about getting people down here to support the local community.”

The event, which is coming up this Saturday, Nov. 25, was started by the credit card company American Express in 2010 as a way to promote “shopping small” at locally owned shops rather than the big, corporate-owned box stores where profits flow out of state.

Linda McCarthy, the executive director of the Downtown Missoula Partnership, said locally owned businesses will be rolling out the red carpet this Saturday with sales, deals and holiday treats.

“The Missoula Downtown Association has seen a steady increase in the number of participating businesses each year, and the number of community members supporting Small Business Saturday continues to rise,” she said. “Last year multiple merchants indicated they had more than doubled their previous Small Business Saturday sales. This is a clear indicator to us that Missoula believes in supporting small, locally owned businesses. When our small businesses succeed, the entire economic system of Missoula is strengthened.”

The MDA will again host a “Shop Small Headquarters” at the MSO Hub at 140 N. Higgins from 10 a.m.–3 p.m. during Small Business Saturday. Free hot cocoa, "Shop Small" goodies and a list of sales and deals at downtown boutiques, shops, restaurants and cafes will be available.

At the Green Light, Smith said they’ll be offering 20 percent off the entire store and an additional 50 percent off clearance items. Smith hopes Missoulians will choose to buy Christmas gifts at local businesses, which keep more money in the local economy.

“I live on the other side of town, and I’ve lived there for over 20 years,” she said. “I talk to people at the grocery store, and they say they don’t shop downtown. It’s disappointing to hear, because all the best shops and restaurants are downtown. It’s a totally different scene than the big box stores on Reserve.”

According to a recent survey conducted by the Carson College of Business at Washington State University, many people have good intentions to shop at local stores but end up making many of their actual purchases online.

The study found that 69 percent of Pacific Northwest consumers reported that they were likely to shop in-store only, but 76 percent also reported Amazon was the top retailer they planned to purchase from. Most consumers said they would be more likely to shop locally if they could match prices found online and also have an easy return policy.

According to the Montana Small Business Association, approximately 41 percent of hourly-wage and salary jobs in Montana are businesses that employ fewer than 20 people, and 75 percent are businesses that employ fewer than 100 people.

“Small businesses account for more than 99 percent of businesses in Montana, so they’re truly the lifeblood of the state’s economy,” said Montana Department of Commerce director Pam Haxby-Cote. “Supporting our local entrepreneurs is important year-round, and the holiday season is a great opportunity to show our support in full force.”

Small Business Saturday is the kick-off event for the holiday shopping season in downtown Missoula, according to McCarthy. In the weeks that follow, the downtown area will host a large number of community events aimed at creating a festive and welcoming atmosphere for shoppers and their families.

Free horse-drawn carriage rides provided by The Resort at Paws Up, and sponsored by Lithia Ford of Missoula, will take place every Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on East Pine Street, starting Nov. 25 and continuing until Dec. 17.

Santa and Mrs. Claus will be making appearances at the Florence Hotel Lobby for the Parade of Lights on Saturday, Dec. 2, and also will visit Liquid Planet, 223 N. Higgins, on Dec. 16 and Dec. 23 from 1 to 5 p.m. The Festival of Trees, a new event for the MDA, will be hosted on the sixth floor of the First Interstate Bank Building at 101 E. Front St. on Dec. 1-3.

“Our downtown, along with Missoula businesses, provides one of the most unique, personal, and festive experiences during the holiday season,” McCarthy said. “We welcome everyone into the heart of Missoula to shop and spend locally.”

The Downtown Missoula Partnership is the umbrella organization composed of the MDA, the Downtown Business Improvement District and the Missoula Downtown Association.

McCarthy is encouraging shoppers to remember their license plate number when using the multi-space, digital parking meters. The meters allow people to switch spots as long as their time is paid for. Parking downtown is free after 5 p.m. weekdays, and on weekends and federal holidays. Smartphone users can use the new Passport Parking app via the App Store, which allows them to store license plate info and make payments.

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