Small Business Saturday a hit with local shoppers

Nov. 26—Shopping at Peaced Together is one of Kathy Gill's holiday season traditions.

This year, she visited the downtown Johnstown store, owned by artist Crista Verhovsek, on Small Business Saturday, a nationwide marketing initiative promoted by American Express that encourages customers to support local proprietors.

Gill's daughter, Karly Gill, picked out some homemade jewelry.

"You can just tell how much work (Verhovsek) puts into it and how much thought," said Kathy Gill, who attended Bishop McCort High School and now lives in Pittsburgh. "She always knows what people like. She has stuff for everyone. It means a lot to have it personally made. It's special. It's not mass produced."

Small Business Saturday has existed for a little more than a decade now.

"It's really come a long way in the few couple years," said Mike Messina, owner of Chameleon Bookstore in downtown Johnstown. "It really seems to have stirred some kind of local support. It's almost like Black Friday is for the bigger corporations, and Small Business Saturday is for folks like me, and you're seeing them pop up all over the place. Little artisan places and things. They're taking off because people are supporting them."

Messina said Small Business Saturday is about "local culture and local people trying to support their community."

"That's the people who start businesses and it's the people who support them," Messina said. "It's hand in hand. It's all about community. That's why I'm here. It's why other places are opening businesses and why people support them."

Shoppers were walking throughout downtown on Saturday, going to businesses, including Chameleon Bookstore, Peaced Together and The Artique Gallery Market.

"Just having a couple other businesses open their doors, it makes, I think, the effort for people to drive downtown, and park and walk around more worth their while and more worth the business owner's effort, too, because you're more likely to get foot traffic," Verhovsek said. "I think, in time, if we get more retail and more window shopping stops to make, it will help people want to come downtown more."

Jim Argenbright, co-owner of The Artique Gallery Market, said trying to get people back to shopping downtown "is a big thing."

"All these little businesses, I feel, bring people down town as they expand," he said. "It's just all little pieces of a puzzle. That's the way I look at us. We're part of it. We want to not compete against the other businesses, but interact with them."

The Artique Gallery Market welcomed familiar and new customers to the shop that sells artisan, free trade and vintage items, along with candles made by Argenbright.

"I think our business really is set up to support the whole idea of what Small Business Saturday represents because we offer products made by other small businesses and artisans," Laura Argenbright, the market's co-owner, said. "Now, they're not all local, but that's part of the idea, too, to bring outside art or things that were maybe not available in Johnstown here, so that we can offer that to local people."