Holiday fever is already burning in Lee County. Christmas decorations are adorning homes and street lamps, and familiar, jingle-belled tunes are invading the radio space.
This can only mean that Thanksgiving is well on its way to being forgotten for a different kind of "holiday" many consumers are eager to celebrate: Black Friday.
But what if Opelika and Auburn, whose communities are built on small businesses, instead celebrated Small Business Saturday? A nationally recognized day that champions small business owners, Small Business Saturday prompts consumers to shop small for the holiday season.
The surge of small, craft-based retailers and restaurants in the Auburn-Opelika area has inspired more and more dreamers to create local, accessible and well-curated businesses.
Downtown Opelika has seen significant renovation in the past several years, with artisanal shops such as Loyal Stricklin and Side Track Coffee occupying storefronts near the railroad.
“The community supports the downtown area,” said John Sharp, co-owner of family-founded John Emerald distillery in Opelika. “You come down here on a Friday night and you can hardly get a parking spot!”
John and Jimmy Sharp are a father and son team that left their travel-intensive plaster-work company to open up their own, craft liquor business. They both agreed to make the transition in hopes of spending more time with family.
Auburn also has small town lovability that lives on through its “Mom and Pop” operated retailers.
“There’s a lot of makers in Alabama like Loyal Stricklin, who make their living who survive off their skill, their craft,” said Hannah Birdsong, co-founder of another family run, jewelry-making business called Perch, located on Gay Street. “Our hope would be that people would come out and support local businesses and keep the craft alive and share it."
Perch has seen significant success as a business model since they opened their doors in 2009. A long, antique table sits in the center of their storefront, holding baskets of beads, chains and pliers for willing creators to sit and experiment with this unique medium of work.
“So many small businesses showed up downtown and it adds to the creative spirit of Auburn,” Birdsong said. “We’re showing people that the craft and the skill of art is a valuable thing.”
The love of community and business involvement is apparent in every kind of small store in Auburn, not just creative retailers.
“This isn’t a corporate type thing,” said Bizilia's Cafe owner Mark Arrington. “We’re a part of the fabric of a small community like this. I hope (Small Business Saturday) brings some awareness to the general public about that.”
Arrington’s diner-style restaurant serves breakfast all day, offering coffee Mama Mocha's, another local eatery.
“Small businesses provide more personality and variety,” Arrington said. “We value costumer service. Like here, we know most of our costumers. Hopefully, we do a little bit more of a personable type job.”
Arrington went on to mention the rarity of college-town living and being a business owner in such an environment feels “lucky,” as a constant influx of curious students are willing to explore the surrounding businesses.
“Maybe that’s why most of the businesses downtown are family owned,” said Sharp about Opelika. “...Joining the business community here feels like joining a family. It’s amazing, and you don’t find that in a lot of other cities.”