April Banks at Noelle Seasonal Decor and Gifts Galore on Main Street helps a customer find just what she needs. (Photo by Marina Waters)

By MARINA WATERS

Staff Writer

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Small business Saturday is anything but little to the downtown merchants in Tennessee’s oldest town.

This year the shopping event will offer extended business hours in downtown stores on Saturday, Nov. 30, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. in Jonesborough.

“For Jonesborough, it’s a great way to promote our small businesses and merchants downtown,” Cameo Waters, the tourism and Main Street director for the Town of Jonesborough, said. “The folks that run those stores are what hold Jonesborough together. Our downtown is beautiful. I feel like people come into downtown and they see the architecture and they’re amazed by it and the historic preservation, but the bricks and mortar of the buildings are not what holds Jonesborough together. It’s definitely the communities, the merchants and the small businesses that keep everything running.”

Zac and Kati Jenkins of Main Street Cafe show off some small town spirit.

For 10 years, American Express has been celebrating small businesses by providing the nation-wide event with all sorts of goodies for merchants and shoppers flocking to local stores ahead of the holidays. And in Jonesborough on Saturday, folks will get the chance to receive Small Business Saturday gear and be entered to win redeemable “bucks” from the Jonesborough Area Merchants & Services Association.

“An incentive we’re doing is for folks to grab one of our shopping guides for the event. It’s kind of like a passport,” Waters said. “When you go to different businesses, you mark where you were and you have that merchant initial it. You just need to shop at a few places and you can turn that in at the International Storytelling Center and then we’ll giveaway a total of $300 in JAMSA bucks. We’ll break that down to where like six $50 winners will win.

“All you’ve got to do is shop downtown, even if all you do is buy a coffee and buy a couple of other things. You don’t have to spend $100 for it. We just want you to shop at a couple different places for you to be entered.”

For the first time, a gift guide with highlighted items available in different shops in downtown Jonesborough will be offered to holiday shoppers. The guide also includes a list of all the downtown businesses as well as a wish list on the back.

Lately, merchants have been checking their own lists in preparation of the biggest day of their year. Waters said the shopping event makes for the most popular Saturday of the entire holiday season and is expected to once again draw a crowd to the streets of Tennessee’s oldest town.

Gabriel’s Christmas in downtown is always ready for a holiday crowd.

“That is by far our busiest Saturday. It is so crazy. People really, really embrace it,” Waters said. “I think they want to support their friends, neighbors and that family — the mom and dad that’s just trying to afford their kids to be in Little League or be able to put money towards their kid’s college. I think people recognize that it’s a lot of hard work and they want to support that but I think people are also wanting to look back and realize they got something unique for someone and it was more than just the hot item that Christmas. It just means so much more to get that unique item and also do something good. You’re supporting a good cause and you’re supporting your neighbors, your friends and your family.”

For merchants like Jerome Bowers, who owns and operates Crystal Raven in Jonesborough, selling those unique items also creates a ripple of support throughout downtown — and that all starts with folks buying local products.

“Hopefully everyone will shop small because it allows me to feed myself, feed my family, pay the bills so that I can stay here,” Bowers said. “And then when I make money, I go to the candle guy and buy candles from him and then I go buy my lunch down the street so it’s a recycling effect. There’s a sort of recycling in the community, where it should be. When you buy things off of Amazon and anywhere else, God knows where that’s going to end up. It’s not here. When your dollars stay here and you shop small, it always filters back into the community whether it’s the school or other businesses.”

Small Business Saturday shoppers don’t just get the opportunity to support local folks, Waters said. The town also hopes shoppers walk away from the day full of Christmas cheer knowing what went into making that handmade jewelry — along with who made it.

“What (the town) has been working on is really sharing the meaning of Small Business Saturday,” Waters said. “I feel like everyone talks about the meaning of Christmas and how the meaning of Christmas is lost. I think the meaning of shopping is lost too. It can be very materialistic, but I think Small Business Saturday takes the materialism out of it by adding that personal connection. You talk to the merchant. You may meet the crafter who made that knife. You may talk to the person who sewed that bag or hear the story about the tribe from Guatemala that made all the handmade bracelets at Hands Around The World. It’s so much more than a material item. There’s a story that goes with it and it has a meaning.”