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Area Small Business Saturday Supporters Ramp Up To Get Share of Holiday Shoppers (The Cleveland Plain Dealer)

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Two years ago Carl Baldesare was sitting on a patio outside of a relatively quiet local bakery in Cleveland Heights, watching a steady flow of foot traffic at a nearby national chain bagel shop. Impulsively, he walked down the street and started asking customers why they didn't check out the local bakery and café instead.

He got answers ranging from not knowing about the other business, to assuming they didn't offer coffee or serve meals too. It was an aha moment for Baldesare, a frustrated entrepreneur.

He managed to get a few of them to check out the local business across the street by offering to buy them coffee.

"I'm not sure why I did that. At the time, I just knew it was difficult to start a general contracting business," Baldesare said. "And as I was growing that business I realized it's hard to compete with larger companies. I just had the urge to ask consumers their thoughts."

In less than a year, he launched "The Keep it Local Cleveland Project," a membership-based group aimed at promoting and growing small businesses of all kinds in Cleveland through events and social media.

On Saturday, his organization will be one of hundreds nationwide, working to remind consumers to think about supporting Small Business in between Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales. Small Business Saturday was created by American Express six years ago in response to small business owners' most pressing need: getting more customers during the busy holiday shopping season.

Small Business Saturday is dedicated to supporting local businesses that help create jobs, boost the economy and preserve the vibrancy of neighborhoods around the country.

Last year, 88 million consumers shopped small on Small Business Saturday, up 14.9 percent from the previous year. In addition, U.S. consumers who were aware of Small Business Saturday spent $14.3 billion at local and independent businesses on the day in 2014, according to American Express.

Here's some of the events scheduled in Cleveland for Saturday:

- The Historic Gateway District Neighborhood Corp. is celebrating Winterfest and Small Business Saturday with a pop-up event at the 5
th Street Arcade.

Keep It Local Cleveland expects 50 vendors at its first Winter Market at the Arcade, Hyatt Regency on 4th and Euclid

- Shaker Heights Chamber of Commerce is asking people to share selfies of yourself shopping at one of the many participating shops in Shaker Square

- After the Mayor's Small Business Saturday proclamation, the Lakewood Chamber of Commerce is hosting a holiday "Buy Local" auction ending on Small Business Saturday.

- The Copley Circle Advisory Board is hosting a Jump on the Trolley Shop Hop, to encourage people to shop among the small businesses on Cleveland-Massillon Road. With the promotion of visiting participating shops on the Copley Passport, such as the River City Gift Shoppe, shoppers can win a gift basket.

The National Association for the Self-Employed also encourages consumers across the country to identify and connect with small business in their local communities by using the NASE Small Business Locator.

NASE is reminding consumers that 63 percent of private sector jobs were created by small businesses.

"The millions of small businesses across our country continue to be the backbone of America's economy," Keith Hall, president and CEO of NASE, said in a written statement. "Over 23 million self-employed and small business owners, located in every community and in every sector throughout the United States, provide the fuel for our economy.

"The simple fact is that when America's small businesses do well, the American economy thrives. During Small Business Saturday this week and throughout the year, I hope consumers understand the importance of buying American and buying local by supporting our small business community."

Medical Mutual of Ohio is one company that not only understands that concept, but practices it 365 days a year, and not only with small businesses, but all size local businesses. It's the reason the insurance company started a "Mutual Appreciation" program that rewards employees for buying goods and services from local businesses that are Medical Mutual customers. The program was created to support customers who buy health insurance from them. Many of Medical Mutual's customers are small businesses.

This month, the four year-old program surpassed the $50 million mark, including $12 million spent this year alone.

Any of the company's 2,400 Ohio employees who choose to participate in the  business program, log their retail and wholesale purchases and receipts into a company database created for the program.

With each purchase at one of its customers, Medical Mutual employees receive reward points. Once they reach certain levels of points, employees can redeem them for cash rewards. The company even created a mobile app to make it easier for them to support customers while on the go.

The Keep It Local Cleveland project is a start-up business that primarily reaches consumers and members through grass-roots marketing efforts at events, social media or newsletters. Starting today, when consumers log onto and sign up and pledge to spend $100 with a small business owner, they will receive daily updates and special offers throughout the holiday season.

"Studies show that most consumers spend about $900 between Thanksgiving and Christmas, for gifts, food and things for themselves," he said. "We're asking consumers to pledge to spend $100 locally."

See the article online here.

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