‘Small Business Saturday’ big event in Coral Gables

By Gary Alan Ruse….

Pictured (l-r) are Doria Camaraza of American Express; Coral Gables Mayor Jim Cason; Chamber of Commerce president Mark Trowbridge, and Mitchell Kaplan, owner of Books & Books.

Following on the heels of “Black Friday” came “Small Business Saturday” on Nov. 26, an event sponsored by American Express in 15 cities across the country. More than just a name, the day drew the participation of the City of Coral Gables in a big way.

Coral Gables Mayor Jim Cason presented a proclamation stating the city’s commitment during a 10 a.m. ceremony at Books & Books with Chamber of Commerce president Mark Trowbridge, representatives of American Express, bookstore owner Mitchell Kaplan and other area business owners and residents attending. A documentary film crew also was on hand to capture the event.

“I think anything that gives prominence to Coral Gables and the uniqueness of the city is good for us,” Mayor Cason said. “We’re a city that’s unique in terms of the structure of business here. Almost everything except Merrick Park is small businesses — we have thousands and thousands.

“One of the reasons we go and cut ribbons is to show support for small businesses. We need them in the city; it helps create the quality of life and draws people downtown and that helps with the tax base.”

Cason also cited the ongoing street scape program and improvements to the downtown area, making it even more attractive for businesses and foot traffic. He said that the city now has 166 restaurants, a growing number.

“We’re cutting more and more ribbons for small businesses that reflect discretionary income of people, so obviously the business owners feel that things are turning around and they want to be in the Gables,” Cason said. “They’re risking their money and they’re putting their effort into it, so we’ve got to help them.”

Mitchell Kaplan, owner of Books & Books, which hosted the ceremony, was excited about the significance of the project and those participating.

“Bookstores around the world have been fighting the fight for small businesses for so many years,” Kaplan said. “To see a corporate entity like American Express acknowledge and get behind the mission of small businesses is very heartening. It’s about community and supporting community. That’s what small businesses do best.”

Other activities included a demonstration with Chef Mike in the Breezeway between Cibo and Tarpon Bend at noon, a Sloane Square & Shoppe “Manscaping” event with Montica Jewelry at 2 p.m., a Rene Ruiz champagne event presenting Ruiz’s Spring/Summer Collection at 3:30 p.m. and a Happy Hour event in the Village of Merrick Park at 5 p.m.

Rene Ruiz, a fashion designer in Coral Gables and one of the event participants, also was impressed.

“An event like this means a lot to a small business like me,” Ruiz said. “It helps create a sense of community, which is very important, especially the way the economy is today. I employ about 36 people and everything that I design is all made here in Coral Gables. The fact that a huge corporation like American Express remembers that we are the backbone of American society is great.”

Created in 2010 as a day to support the local businesses that create jobs, boost the economy and preserve neighborhoods, the nationwide event has grown in just a year’s time with an estimated 89 million consumers deciding to “shop small” on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, according to Doria Camaraza of American Express.

“One of the restaurants that we spoke with had three times the amount of sales on that Saturday in 2010 versus in 2009,” Camaraza said. “A photo shop had a 21 percent increase in sales over that same Saturday in 2009. So we’re really seeing this take off very quickly after one year. It really is amazing.

“At the root of it, people really want to support small business in their community. The small businesses are one of the largest job providers, and the profits that they make stay right in the community.”

American Express offered special deals to their registered card members to encourage them to “Shop Small” and put an interactive map on the “Small Business Saturday” Facebook page to help people find small businesses in their area.

Camaraza said that they are looking forward to continuing the program next year and beyond.

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