SHELTER at Union Market
SHELTER at Union Market Credit: Courtesy of Mallory Shelter

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Small Business Saturday typically follows Black Friday, but a group of local business owners have declared a springtime edition for this upcoming Saturday, April 25.

“I was just trying to think of ways to encourage people to shop online,” says Mallory Shelter, the leader and organizer of the initiative. Shelter owns an eponymous jewelry and accessories boutique in Union Market. “[November’s] Small Business Saturday is a huge day for our shop, and many others feel the same way, so I thought why not try one in the spring. . . online, of course, reminding people that small businesses, be they restaurants or shops or hardware stores, they’re the backbone of the community, the color of the community, and without them a lot will change.” 

Many of the participants are friends in the tight-knit industry. “It’s never been competitive among owners,” Shelter says. “People really are supportive of each other, keen to share information and experiences.” When the idea of businesses closing down was bandied about mid-March, Amanda McClements of Salt and Sundry, Little Leaf, and The Sunroom created a Slack instant messaging channel for area small businesses owners. Updates from restaurant and shop owners about who was closing, how they were handling things, and how they were communicating with employees soon shifted to discussion around how to move operations online. 

“I had had this idea and I put it out to that smaller community and people were really receptive. I just threw together a webpage, reached out to my community, encouraged them to reach out to people they know who may not be on my radar,” Shelter says of the inception. “We still have people coming in everyday asking to be a part of it. I think it shows there’s a strong business community out there, people are hurting, and they’re hungry for opportunities to talk to D.C. residents in a meaningful way.” 

Every dollar matters to businesses on the brink, so participants will be offering cost-effective incentives to shop. “I’ve been impressed. People have been getting creative with incentives like donating back portions of sales to a local nonprofit, gift with purchase, that type of thing,” Shelter says. The list of promotions includes free shipping, percentages off purchase totals, and a $10 gift card to another participating business. 

Planning for the week ahead is as far as most small businesses can project given how much hangs in the balance. The loans and grants Shelter applied for haven’t come through yet, and her two employees have yet to receive unemployment benefits. 

“Money is the most important thing. Cash is what is going to keep businesses alive in the short term. I would really like to see a more concerted effort of the city working with the landlords for rent relief,” she says. “Everyone is kind of holding their breath to see how things shake out, things like paying rent. If I’m on the hook for rent, I’m out of business in very short order.”

But for now, small businesses are banking on community support. Despite all the fear and uncertainty, “the biggest thing I’ve felt is the community aspect of all this,” Shelter says. “People are really coming together for the greater good of small businesses in this community. Sharing information, resources, even things like sending mental-health check-in texts to other small business owners. I’m impressed by how people are rallying together, getting creative about how we’re communicating with customers in the city. I hope this kind of inspires people to take a minute and think about when they can buy local, how that looks, and how it impacts the greater D.C. area.” 

Small businesses that want to participate in the April 25 Small Business Saturday should reach out as soon as possible. Shoppers looking to support can find a list of participating retailers and brands here