Photo by Dave Warner – Downtown Little Falls on a late fall afternoon.

Story by Jordyan Mueller

Many remember “the good old days” in Little Falls when you could walk into any number of locally owned businesses to find a familiar face to help you with groceries, gifts, baked goods, or appliances. It’s so embedded in our collective memory as a city that there is even a Facebook group dedicated to being able to recall what small-town life was like in Little Falls: “I Remember Back When In Little Falls, NY”.

Recently a thread was started to ask people what their favorite small businesses were from their childhood. The post garnered 149 comments; many of them offering fond memories of the shops and the goods and services they had to offer. For many people commenting on this thread, it wasn’t just what people could buy; it was the experiences people had in those places and the relationships that were built that brought the city to life.

In many ways, that’s still happening today as local volunteers for numerous organizations within the city are working hard to make sure that sense of community and culture stays alive.

The landscape of small businesses in Little Falls has certainly changed since the ’50s and ’60s, but they are still a very important part of the economic and cultural fabric of our city.

And it’s not just in Little Falls that this trend exists: according to U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy, from 1998 – 2014, small businesses made up 44% of the national GDP. As for the local impact of small businesses, studies show that for every $100 spent locally, $68 goes back into supporting local initiatives.

The interconnectedness of the small business economy and the experiences afforded by their presence is notable. However, when small business is in decline, so are the spaces and experiences that shape communities and people.

In 2009, at the peak of the Great Recession, bankruptcies were up 74% and lending was at a low. In 2010, American Express teamed up with the National Trust for Historic Preservation to counteract the impacts of the recession on small businesses by creating a marketing campaign called Small Business Saturday. The goal of the national campaign was to revitalize consumer spending at small businesses across the country. Targeting the biggest week of spending in the US, Small Business Saturday falls between Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Since 2010, steady growth in small business sales on that day has taken shape with $17.8 billion dollars being generated in 2018 alone. A survey of Small Business Saturday shoppers showed that 61% of consumers preferred to shop locally on this day because of the unique products available that many big box stores don’t offer.

In its ninth year, the marketing campaign around Small Business Saturday has found success in increasing consumer awareness by supporting small local groups referred to as “Neighborhood Champions”. Here in Little Falls, that champion is Think Local Little Falls.

Think Local volunteers work tirelessly to develop and promote community events that are inclusive and that strengthen the local economy by bringing together local independent businesses and community organizations. Think Local has developed “Third Thursday” which offers events every month; some of which include a June Art Walk, a July Midsummer Nights’ Picnic, and Oktoberfest along with Small Business Saturday.

Kelly Grgic has been a volunteer with Think Local for three years and got her start by working with Tracy Young taking on the Small Business Saturday event. “I’ve always wanted to own a small business here in Little Falls and I knew I also wanted to help out in some way. So, I showed up to a meeting and they needed help growing this event so I took it on”, she said in a recent interview.

Kelly grew up in Little Falls and she and her husband recently won a Preserve Our Past award for the rehabilitation of the former German Maennerchor on Main Street. She owns a small pop up shop in the Little Falls Antique Center & Shops at 25 West called “Chickweed”. She offers homemade skincare products, gifts, and accessories and hopes to one day bring her business to the building she and her husband helped to preserve.

“I was inspired to get involved because Think Local touches on a lot of my own personal interests. I’m a small business owner, a mom, and I grew up here. I remember the ‘good old days’ and how memorable that was for me as a child with all the local businesses. Think Local’s kid-friendly events bring together families and businesses and it feels like I’m a part of making sure my kids and others get to have their own ‘good old day’ memories too”, said Grgic.

This year, 21 small businesses are participating in Small Business Saturday. Several businesses, including restaurants, are offering discounts and deals on goods and services.

Think Local is setting up a shop small “Welcome Center” at the Little Falls Antique Center & Shops at 25 West from 10 am to 5 pm where you can get information on participating businesses and enter the Shop Small Gift Basket Raffle. Collect your raffle card, visit 10 small participating businesses highlighted in the Small Business Saturday brochure and have each mark your card. Then bring your raffle card back to the Welcome Center by 5 pm or to Ruggiero’s Trattoria on Main Street by 8 pm to be entered to win. Think Local volunteers will contact the winner on Sunday.

If you’re interested in learning more about Think Local Little Falls or becoming a volunteer, visit the Main Street First website at https://www.mainstreetfirst.org/about-2/#about-think-local or contact them directly through their Facebook page.

Think Local hosts meetings bi-weekly on Mondays at the Little Falls Public library through Spring 2020. The next meeting is December 2, 2019, at 5:30.