Small Business Saturday was going to be big business in downtown Washington next weekend. Festivities featuring food, frolic and fun were planned, similar to last year’s Support Small Business Crawl and Sweet Street Cookie Walk.

A deadly virus killed those plans.

“Not in 2020,” said Sarah Collier, Main Street manager for the Washington Business District Authority, which oversees 14 square blocks of the city.

The infamous pandemic forced her to cancel this year’s event, but not the spirit behind it.

“With cases continuing to escalate, the health and wellness of our community and our businesses is paramount,” Collier said. “We’re using Small Business Saturday to kick off what we call ‘Small Business Season.’ From now until Christmas, we want people to come in and show love to our retailers and restaurants.

“Small Business Saturday is as much a mindset as it is a single-day event.”

The holiday shopping season is well underway. Online or in traditional bricks-and-mortar locations, many consumers started early this year, motivated in part to circumvent COVID-19 by avoiding crowds at malls and shopping centers.

Black Friday is not the frenzied, pre-dawn spectacle it once was, but remains a popular day to pursue sales and flash your debit card, followed the next morning by Small Business Saturday, a national celebration of retail that was launched by American Express in 2010.

Collier had lofty praise for Washington’s business owners and operators. “I remain so incredibly impressed with our merchants, who want each other to succeed. They show up every day smiling. I was at Chicco Baccello and they have Christmas lights up. Despite all that has happened in 2020, there is a festive sense.

“Things have changed, but it is still Small Business Saturday.”

That also will be a free tour day at the David Bradford House in the city. From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., patrons can walk through the house and cabin at 175 S. Main St.

“The entire house is decorated in 18th century-themed holiday decor. There are a lot of pines inside,” said Tracie Liberatore, executive director of the historic home of the Whiskey Rebellion leader.

These tours, she said, are an SBS tradition. This year, however, “we had to really scale back because of COVID restrictions. Previously, we had demonstrators in every room, but now we’re limited to 12 inside.”

Small Business Saturday, in a way, is a 23-day event in Greene County. Its Tourist Promotion Agency has been working with Waynesburg Prosperous and Beautiful and the county Chamber of Commerce to present the Shop and Dine Challenge, which will begin Saturday and finish Dec. 20.

Participants pick up a form at participating businesses, then have that form stamped every time they dine or shop at those locations countywide. If you acquire 12 stamps, complete your contact information and submit the form at the 12th location to be eligible for the grand prize, gift cards or merchandise.

“You can shop at one store 12 times or one store 12 times. And you can have more than one entry,” said JoAnne Marshall, director of the agency. She said Waynesburg Prosperous and Beautiful ran a similar program in 2019 and gave Tourism permission to to do so this year.

“The list of participating businesses is fluid and will continue to grow,” Marshall said.

She added that some county businesses, outside the challenge, are working among themselves to offer Small Business Saturday specials.

Black Friday, traditionally, has been a green Friday at malls and big-box chains – a financial bonanza for retailers. An invisible yet ominous virus, however, is casting uncertainty this Thanksgiving week.

“Honestly, I don’t know what to expect,” said Civil Knox, general manager at Washington Crown Center in North Franklin Township. “We’re hoping for the best.

“Foot traffic has been down. We’ve seen better. But we’re hanging in there, anticipating more traffic for the holidays.”

Crown Center will be closed on Thanksgiving, then have Black Friday hours – 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. – on Friday and Saturday.

The mall’s Holiday Marketplace will kick off Friday as well, and run through Sunday – an attraction that could boost sales for the 51-year-old shopping destination. Santa, the gifted one from far north, is due to arrive Dec. 5.

Nicole Baculik’s Black Friday forecast is sunny. “Based on shopper and store feedback thus far, we are anticipating strong traffic Friday and for the weekend,” said the general manager of Tanger Outlets in South Strabane Township.

“Shoppers still want to see and touch merchandise, and that’s something that online cannot offer. Plus, there’s always the issue of difficulty to return items.”

She said Tanger had “an uptick of shoppers earlier this year, which is promising. We have also offered more promotions throughout this month.”

The outlets have three shopping options, including in-store. A shopper also can select curbside pickup, whereby he or she purchases directly from a store and an employee brings the purchase to the buyer’s vehicle at a marked curbside spot in the lot. There also is a Virtual Shopper option, where an employee speaks with the consumer and does the shopping.

Hope also is the byword at Uniontown Mall, said administrative assistant Lou Ann Hunchuck.

“Business has been slow, but we have wishful thinking that things will get better,” she said.

Following a Thanksgiving closure, mall operators will be poised for Black Friday. All but one store will operate from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. that day; Bath and Body Works will open at 6 a.m.

The mall, Hunchuck said, has had some encouraging business bursts since reopening in the green phase on June 5, enhancing that hope for Black Friday.

Uniontown Mall, managed by Ron Smith, will welcome Jolly Old Saint Nick on Dec. 3, three weeks before he takes to the skies.

‘Tis the season for snowflakes, sales, and schlepping gifts to your car.

Business Writer

Rick Shrum joined the Observer-Reporter as a reporter in 2012, after serving as a section editor, sports reporter and copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rick has won eight individual writing awards, including two Golden Quills.

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