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The gift-giving season is finally here, and while some shoppers may find it tempting to go online, those who explore small, local shops can find unexpected treasures curated with care by welcoming vendors who call Charlotte home.
Supporting small businesses and giving holiday shoppers a festive experience — that’s what Shop Small Saturdays presented by Fifth Third Bank is all about. And Charlotte Center City Partners is hosting Shop Small Saturdays once again, returning in this multi-week format for the second year in a row.
It’s an open-air experience reminiscent of the centuries-old European Christmas markets. For four consecutive Saturdays starting on Nov. 27, shoppers can stroll the streets and sidewalks of South End to sample the wares of local artisans, pop-up vendors and small business owners operating from brick-and-mortar stores.
Tamu Curtis, president and owner of The Cocktailery, a lifestyle shop for the cocktail enthusiast, said she enjoys getting to know the people who enter her store inside Atherton Mills.
“We want to welcome them. We want to have conversations…” she said. “We want to give them a more specialized and a more intimate shopping experience.”
Cohen Miller, owner of No Label Candle Company, touts other key benefit that comes with shopping at small, local businesses.
“…Supporting local and small businesses really kind of keeps the community going by putting money back into our community and in the pockets of the people that live here,” she said.
Shop Small Saturdays expands on the Small Business Saturday concept that first gained popularity when small businesses across America were still hurting from the Great Recession. And much like that first Small Business Saturday, Shop Small Saturdays was developed last year to direct holiday shoppers to small, local businesses that survived the first wave of pandemic-related closures.
Keren Patrick, who opened Lush Boutique as an online retailer in March 2020, the weekend before the pandemic forced storefronts to close, participated in her first open-air pop-up event during Small Business Saturday last year.
“That was our first-ever in-person pop up,” she recalled. “And I saw how crucial it was for our business. Since then…we try to be at any event that we can attend because it’s how we’re able to stay open. It’s difficult when you don’t have a storefront, so for us, pop ups, they mean everything.”
Shop Small Saturdays kick off with a Shop Small Saturday Market from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. More than 80 vendors selling everything from fresh bread to candles will line Camden Road from Atherton Mill to the Design Center. Retailers located year-round in the area will also host special events and offer savings.
No Label Candles, a fixture at various South End pop-up events, will be releasing a line of holiday-scented candles, including Lumberjack, a clean teakwood scented candle; Homo for the Holidays, a Christmas tree-scented candle; and Santa’s Little [blank] — you fill in the label; a snow scented-candle. Regularly priced at $20 each, Miller will offer a $5 discount on purchases of two candles.
Customers shopping at the Cocktailery will be treated to a DJ spinning festive music and a complimentary champagne cocktail flavored with bitters of their choosing.
“We’re known for our large selection of bitters,” Curtis said. “We even have a bitter-tasting bar. So, when you come into the shop, you can try bitters before you even buy them.”
On Saturday, Dec. 11, the shops on Winnifred Street, along with pop-up vendors there, will be the focus at “Winter Wonderland on Winnifred.” Organized by DeAnna Allen, owner of the Brown Sugar Collaborative, a bath and body boutique spotlighting the work of women from various ethnic backgrounds, and Jekia Benson, owner of women’s clothing boutique Five13 Studio, the event is designed to draw traffic to the businesses located on Winnifred, many of which have opened in the past year as development has progressed in that area.
“A lot of people are familiar with the businesses on South Tryon, but they don’t venture back here,” Allen said. “So, we are just trying to get more traction here, as well as expose other small business owners who do not operate storefronts, giving them, you know, a greater customer base.”
In addition to small business owners, Allen and Benson will showcase the next generation of entrepreneurs at a kids’ market that’s part of Winter on Winnifred. Young shoppers will be able to buy presents for their friends and family from vendors ages 10 to 15.
“We want kids to see other kids like themselves who are business owners,” Allen said. “One of our vendors is a teacher here in Charlotte, and she teaches a class on entrepreneurship, so she’s been our bridge to the young entrepreneurs.”
In addition to the scores of vendors who will line the sidewalk of Winnifred Street and a parking lot on the corner of Winnifred and Wynona, shoppers will have access to a gift-wrapping station, a DIY Christmas ornament station, food trucks and a DJ playing festive music.
Shop Small Saturdays offers more than an opportunity for people to support local entrepreneurs in a convenient and central location during the holidays; it offers both shoppers and vendors a sense of community against the festive backdrop of the holiday season. What to many feels like a chore — crossing off items from your holiday gift list — becomes an immersive experience filled with of holiday joy.
For many vendors, Shop Small Saturdays is a chance to connect with people and build community, said Jerrel Dunlap, owner of TrashGenius and the creator of the “From Charlotte with Love” design.
“My main accomplishment has always been to spread the message of “From Charlotte with Love” just as far as it can go,” said Dunlap. “The purpose of creating the brand in general was to give the people of Charlotte a sense of pride from where they are from. A lot of people have met each other through the shirts, which is awesome. I just want to carry that on.”
Ayana Small, owner of Props CLT, a local manufacturer of organic potting soil, expresses a need that many in the community are feeling after nearly two years of living through a pandemic.
“I am really looking forward to meeting more people within my city, you know, after being isolated for so long,” she said. “I miss people. I miss being around people.”
Shop Small Saturdays begin Nov. 27 and will run through Dec. 18 at various locations in the South End area. Each Saturday will highlights a different area of the neighborhood, in addition to the weekly holiday offerings at the South End Farmer’s Market at Atherton Mill from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Shoppers each week are encouraged to pick up a Shop Small Hero Card, available at the welcome tents or from participating South End businesses. For every purchase of at least $10, shoppers will receive a sticker. Collect five stickers and redeem the card at Trolley Barn, Vow’d, Boba Boba or Fifth Third Bank for a special South End shopping tote bag.
11 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Shop Small Saturday Market at Camden Road Street
More than 80 vendors will participate in a holiday festival spanning from Atherton Mill to the Design Center.
11 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Shop Small Saturday Market at the Design Center
More than 30 vendors will line the walkways of the Design Center.
11 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Winter Wonderland on Winnifred
Dozens of vendors, including a kids’ market, will line Winnifred Street, across from the micro-retailers at the Shops at the Winnifred.
2 p.m. – 8 p.m.
Nebel’s Alley Night Market
Dozens of vendors will showcase local and regional food, drinks and good, and gifts of all kinds. The market is set along Nebel Alley and Tompkins Alley in the Design District.
For more information on Shop Small Saturdays, visit https://southendclt.org/events/shop-small-saturdays.