MANKATO — Melanie Lee just moved to Mankato from Fargo and is already a big fan of the local shops.

"I like spending at local businesses. If I'm going to spend for the holidays I want it to be local," said Lee, who was at Bumbelou in Old Town Saturday morning.

Referred to as Small Business Saturday or Shop Small Saturday, the event was started eight years ago by American Express.

Shop owners say it has grown into a major success.

"The Shop Small day has really helped us. The whole Black Friday weekend is a lot more busy for us because of Shop Small Saturday," said Carl Nordmeier, owner of Tune Town in Old Town.

Jenna and John Odegard opened Bumbelou in September, expanding Jenna's home-based business, which offers hand-made baby and children's clothing.

"I didn't sleep last night, I was so excited," Jenna said of participating in her first Shop Small event. "I was like a kid on Christmas Eve."

The couple just finished turning the back of the building into a production room where six employees cut and sew fabric.

Nancy Green was out shopping for some baby clothes for a new grandson and for other gifts.

"It's nice to support the locals. You find good quality and unique treasures that you don't find at the big boxes," Green said.

At the Hubbard Building, several Minnesota State University students and student groups created a pop-up shop where they offered jewelry, ceramics, 3D printing demonstrations, healthy food offerings, T-shirts and other items.

At the Twin Rivers Council for the Arts, nine artists were set up. It's the third year of the art sale and a hit with the artists.

"I used to be in a bigger show that's three days long but you just get tired. I came here and had really good sales and after six hours you're done," said painter Margie Larson.

Jane Laven had her Minnesota Sno Flakes table set up selling large wire and bead snowflake ornaments as well as crocheted items.

"They're my two passions," Laven said. A reading intervention paraprofessional at Roosevelt School, Laven said she plans to use the business as a retirement income some day.

Rob Guhlke and her mom Judy Wandersee, owners of Becky's Floral & Gift Shoppe, took part in their first Small Business Saturday last year.

While many small businesses say Shop Small Saturday is their biggest sales day, the flower shop's big days are tied to holidays, especially Valentine's Day.

"We're kind of on the tail end of the shopping area here," Guhlke said of their store across from the Law Enforcement Center on South Front Street. "This is a good way to try to get people to stop in to see that we have a lot of gift items here and not just flowers," she said.

On Belgrade Avenue in North Mankato, the Knights of Columbus was seeing good business selling Christmas trees from a narrow space between two old brick buildings.

"It's like a Norman Rockwell setting," said Doug Homan who was manning the business on Saturday. It's the first year at the site after spending many years selling the trees at Holy Rosary Church.

"There's more room here and a lot more exposure. There's a lot of traffic that goes by here," Homan said.

They sell about 150 trees each year with all profits going to charity. The Balsam, Canaan and Fraser firs range from $44 to $76, with the Frasers the most expensive.

Nearly 50 businesses in the downtowns also took part in a "passport" program where customers who got stamps from eight businesses were entered into a raffle of their choice.

Shop Small also dovetailed with the GSR Fine Art Show at the civic center. The art show continues on Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. It is free and beer, wine and food are available for purchase.

Last year, U.S. shoppers spent nearly $13 billion at small, independent stores and restaurants the Saturday after Thanksgiving, according to a survey by NFIB and American Express.

“Traditionally, the holiday shopping season has kicked off with Black Friday, but we are encouraged each year by the number of people who are participating in Small Business Saturday,” Mike Hickey, NFIB’s Minnesota state director said in a statement.

The 28 million small businesses in the United States account for 54 percent of all sales and 55 percent of all jobs.

Studies show that when money is spent at a small locally owned business, 48 percent of the money is returned to the community, compared to 14 percent of money spent at national chains.

Follow Tim Krohn on Twitter @TimKrohn

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