Small businesses are what give small towns their flavor, and this one tastes like empanadas, craft beer, fresh coffee and coconut cake.
Those are a few of the handmade items shoppers could find on Small Business Saturday if they eschewed the malls and headed instead to the locally owned stores in Fuquay-Varina. The southern Wake County town has its big boxes and fast-food drive-throughs, but it also retains two distinct downtown shopping districts and dozens of independent businesses that recall its 19th-century origins as two rural towns: Fuquay and Varina.
Then, as now, most of the downtown stores were owned and operated by people who live here.
“They’re our neighbors,” said Emily McFalls, who moved to Fuquay-Varina with her husband several years ago so the couple could raise their three children here. They bought a house just a couple of blocks off Main Street, and the family often walks to Stick Boy Bread Co. for baked goods, to The Meeting Corner for Saturday morning breakfast and to Anna’s Pizzeria for supper.
McFalls loves that the businesses are local and that the owners often are in when she visits.
“People know your face when you walk in,” she said. “You start to feel connected to the place. You just can’t replace that.”
Credit card company American Express launched Small Business Saturday – its motto, “Shop Small” – in 2010 to draw attention to the backbone of the American economy. Held the first Saturday after Thanksgiving, between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, it aims to help small businesses capitalize on that first wave of holiday gift hunting.
According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, businesses with fewer than 500 employees continue to add more net jobs than large businesses. Across the U.S., more than 99 percent of all employer firms are classified as small businesses, and most of those have fewer than 20 employees.
Sisters Kim and Linda Anderson, who live in Fuquay-Varina, try hard to shop small. Saturday, they visited the State Farmers Market in Raleigh, where they could buy directly from growers, then came back to Fuquay-Varina to pick up fresh bread at the bakery and start looking for Christmas gifts at K’n’B’s Marketplace, just off Main Street.
“I try to steer completely clear of Wal-Mart,” Kim Anderson said, opting instead to spend her money in places such as K’n’B’s, where more than three dozen local vendors offer antiques, collectibles and handmade goods. Saturday, the shop’s storefront twinkled with Christmas-themed items.
Bob Lee, who teaches Career and Technical Education at Fuquay-Varina High School and is the adviser for the school’s chapter of Future Business Leaders of America, marked Small Business Saturday by setting up a table on a Main Street sidewalk where he offered calendars for sale to benefit a scholarship fund the group is building. The calendars included ads for about 40 local businesses, which Lee said is a way to thank those companies for the support they give all year to the community.
In towns and cities across the region, small businesses sponsor athletic teams, contribute to beautification projects and charity campaigns, and offer student internships.
“We support one another,” Lee said of the relationship between a community and its businesses.
Accommodating customers, staff
Vonda Gray has worked for big companies but prefers small ones. For the past three years, she has worked at Rita’s Decor & More in Fuquay-Varina, which shares space with a clothing store on Main Street. At Rita’s, shoppers can find handmade candles and soaps and order custom-monogrammed wine-bottle stoppers.
“A small business can be more accommodating,” Gray said, both to its customers and its employees. “There is more flexibility.”
Stephen James, who started The Mill coffee shop about a year ago in a circa-1937 building on Main Street, said there are challenges to running a small business. One of them, he said, is finding the right employees who feel as invested in the venture as he does.
But the rewards, he said, are great. “You can kind of set your own hours. You get to know the other business owners, and you get to know your customers by name.
“It’s just makes everything more small town.”