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Hampton Roads retailers hope for strong support despite changes to Small Business Saturday

As more than 160,000 U.S. businesses closed during the pandemic, Small Business Saturday held more importance than ever for local retailers.

NORFOLK, Va. — On Saturday, Margaret Cheney reflected on the difference a year makes.

Small Business Saturday is one of the biggest earning events for Prince Books in downtown Norfolk, where Cheney works - and the day usually comes with a celebration.

“Normally, we have balloons,” she said. “We have a party, music and treats!”

But that was no longer the reality during the pandemic. 

Customers were required to wear masks and a sanitation station greeted visitors at the door. Out of an abundance of caution and adherence to CDC recommendations, there was no party at 109 East Main Street.

“This year, people congregating is difficult,” said Cheney. “This year, people congregating is dangerous.”

“It feels like all the balloons are popped.”

A recent survey by the Society for Human Resource Management found more than 60 percent of small businesses reported losses in revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  The latest count by Yelp said more than 163,000 U.S. businesses have closed since the beginning of the pandemic.

Small business owners hope their premier retail event will revitalize struggling shops across the country. 

More than 700,000 employers received and relied on Paycheck Protection Program loans dispersed earlier this year to stay afloat. The Small Business Administration estimates U.S. consumers spent nearly $20 million at independent retailers and restaurants on Small Business Saturday in 2019.

But in 2020, shopping trends have drastically changed due to the pandemic, as more people stayed home to shop online.

Prince Books typically relies on customer foot traffic, but Cheney said most people order by phone or online now. She was overwhelmed by the intentional support of the local community.

“At the beginning of every conversation, ‘I’m calling you because you are a local business and I want local businesses to survive this,'” she said. “I mean, can you beat that?”

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