Karen Thompson of Warren fled the Black Friday crush of the mall and the long line at the Vera Bradley store she was trying to enter when she remembered her morning email about sales at Apogee in downtown Basking Ridge.
"There had to be 70 people in line," at the store at the mall, Thompson said. By contrast, in the small shop later on Friday morning, she was receiving personalized attention while browsing through what she said was the same selection.
"It was a mob scene," Thompson said of her Friday morning trip to the mall. "Plus, it's good to support local businesses," she added. After leaving the fashion boutique, she said she was heading down South Finley Avenue to Down Cellar, a collectibles and crafts store also in Basking Ridge.
Shops also participating in Small Business Saturday
Teri DiVite, Apogee owner, said the store — which also is participating in Small Business Saturday promotions on Saturday — also offers unique items and also such unusual brands as "My Flat in London" jewelry and personal accessories.
Although it's a small shop in the middle of a mall, Hillary's Fashion Boutique at 177 Washington Valley Road in Warren, has made a reputation for itself as a Black Friday destination.
"We have been pretty swamped," said owner Hillary Scharf. Along with giveaways, the shop was offering 50 percent off all shoes and boots, 30 percent off all jeans and 20 percent off everything else on Black Friday, with plans to remain open until 6 .m. Scharf said there would be other promotions at the shop on Small Business Saturday, and during special Sunday hours from noon to 4 p.m.
Her daughter, Carly Scharf, said some college students come to Hillary's while home for Thanksgiving because they like to stock up for winter and "because my mom helps them pick out clothes and knows what's right for them."
Personal service is a hallmark that small business owners say is a good reason that shoppers should consider shopping in local downtowns and at neighborhood malls. Several of the shops, including those signed up to be part of the Small Business Saturday promotion with American Express, say they offer extras such as free gift wrapping and in-depth expertise about what they're selling.
Rick Herman, president of Courtyard Jewelry and Gifts at 318 N. 202/206 in Bedminster said that his shop had had a steady stream of customers on Black Friday morning seeking service for watches and other items, as well as buying merchandise.
Herman said his shop will provide an updated battery and free sizing for such items as watches, whether for the buyer or the person who receives the watch a a gift.
Another jewelry shop, The Jewelry Store in Martinsville at 1944 Martinsville Road in Bridgewater, began offering a 70 percent off sale that will continue through Christmas, said owner Darrell Leger.
Leger said Black Friday is not normally the biggest day of the year for the small store, although this year had been pretty busy. But he agreed that Small Business Saturday is a bit of a jump start for the holiday season for smaller businesses.
Support after Sandy
Buying local also is a good way to support businesses — and entire towns — hard hit by Sandy, said a number of shop owners.
Sharon Markowitz of Basking Ridge, who owns The Rebecca Collection on Olcott Square in Bernardsville, said that her store was closed for nine days following the super-sized storm in late October. She said that she even stayed open on Thanksgiving, and on Black Friday was offering 20 percent off everything in her gift and home decorating shop.
The Rebecca Collection also is participating in the Small Business Saturday promotion, when Markowitz said she will give out a gift with each $25 purchase.
Especially after a hard year, Markowitz said she believes that people are looking for gifts that show a "personal touch."
But she also noted that small businesses support and donate to local organizations and activities. Keeping small businesses alive are necessary to the health of downtowns and tax bases in small communities, she said.
By supporting local businesses, "You are helping yourself," Markowitz said.
Not all offering Black Friday specials are strictly retailers. Four small businesses, BaseCamp Adventure Outfitters, The Bernards Inn, The Station Pub & Grub, all in Bernardsville, and Bella's Burger Shack in Basking Ridge were offering 10 percent off gift certificates through Black Friday.
Consistency is another hallmark of the local small business scene. The Toy Store in Bernardsville has been at its location for more than 20 years, said owner Winnie Vastola.
Businesses throughout Bernardsville were closed by Sandy, and are making up for lost ground since. Gary's Wine and Marketplace, 80 Morristown Road in Bernardsville, was decorated for the holidays on Black Friday, even while serving customers, said Ariel Eckes, front end manager.
And for those who have gotten a headache battling Black Friday crowds, the shop's wine tasting is scheduled from noon to 4 p.m. on Friday, and again on Saturday.