For many in Hinesville, a small business is their livelihood, and having community support is what helps these businesses thrive. Places like Southern Sweets, NY Eats, Southern Roots Salon, Emma Janes Boutique— all the shop owners are proud to call Hinesville home.
NY Eats, Emma Janes and Southern Roots opened their doors in August, and Southern Sweets has been located in Hinesville for nearly two years.
Small Business Saturday, a business initiative founded in 2010 by American Express, annually occurs the Saturday after Thanksgiving, according to americanexpress.com. In 2011, the Senate unanimously passed a resolution in support of SBS, and all 50 states continue to participate.
Since the inception of Small Business Saturday, U.S. customers have reported spending an estimated 85 billion at independent retailers and restaurants—85 billion over eight days, according to the website.
Locally, shopping small is important to the small businesses that line streets in downtown Hinesville and other major areas. Emma Janes Boutique, Southern Roots Salon, Southern Sweets and NY Eats are clustered together on S. Commerce Street, and are one group representative of the many businesses promoted by local community.
“I’ve been working in different salons for years,” Southern Roots Salon owner Kersten Hofkin said. “But I just started to have a different vision, and I decided that I needed to open up my own salon.”
“I’m originally from Hinesville,” Emma Janes Boutique owner Staci Chapman said. “The downtown area is wonderful, and we wanted to stay small and local.”
“We’ve been open for nearly eight years,” Southern Sweets owner Judi Mills said. “We’ve been in downtown Hinesville for almost two.”
NY Eats Executive Chef and owner Jeff Childs had a rough start in New York before finding himself and becoming an entrepreneur. At one point in his life he was homeless and unemployed. He recovered, made Hinesville home and is determined to make his eatery a downtown mainstay.
“Hinesville had that mixture of a small-town vibe, but because of Fort Stewart’s diverse population, it was also urbanized,” Childs said. “It had that weird mix of small-town and city, and I fell in love with the area.”
As a small business, social media is an essential tool to help promote services, and make sure the community is kept up-to-date on what’s happening. But, as Childs said, social media is a double edged sword.
“If you’re not willing to play the social media game or the technology game, you’re going to be left behind,” Hofkin said. “Social media has been great for making people aware that the business is here and what if offers, and being able to show off the business.”
“In the last eight years, Facebook had come out,” Mills said. “When I first started, that first year I did every means of advertising I could think of: radio, newspaper, facebook, flyers, etc. I kind of gauged it and the number one advertising was word of mouth, and number two was Facebook. Eight years, Facebook kind of manipulates you—I can post something one day and 345 people see it. Tomorrow, I could do the exact same thing and only 27 people would see it. I just don’t understand Facebook’s algorithms anymore.”
“Technology, especially in the restaurant business, can be a two edged sword,” Childs said. “Because, if you get a great review on Yelp, Google, or Facebook—that can be seen by thousands of people, but it goes the same way with bad ones. Once it’s out there, it’s out there.”
Shopping small, the initiative originated by American Express, serves to help these individuals every day by encouraging communities to embrace those small businesses in their towns and cities. Specifically, it brings a sense of community and belonging, according to Chapman.
“Shopping small is a chance for everybody to be a community,” Chapman said. “It was also a lot of fun. We had people in and out, giving us something to do. It involves the community, the customers, everybody was involved in some way.”
“The community begins to feel like they have options and variety,” Hofkin said. “They like to feel catered to, like they’re not just another face in the crowd. Take the time to do extra.”
“It’s a community thing,” Mills added. “Walmart could give a flip if you go there and spend a dime. It doesn’t affect them in the same way. The small businesses are very good because we support each other.”
“When they talk about small business owners being the heartbeat of America, the lifeblood of America, I get it now,” Childs said. “I didn’t before, but I get it now. These small business owners in communities are what define the community really. The store spaces and what they’re doing—everything from item selection to displays, reflect their personalities. This is who we are. For shop small, if you don’t support your local small businesses, your town loses its personality. For a corporate sponsor like American Express to promote small businesses, that’s huge. It’s important, and it’s refreshing to see that coming from the corporate world.”
As a business owner, success is measured by income at the end of the day, but also by personal satisfaction.
“I’m doing what I want to do,” Mills said. “I want to make cookies because it’s fun. If I want to paint, I do.” Besides the bakery business, Mills currently runs an art group, called Melting Pot of Art. The group is very active with pop-up art shows, different gatherings, and other events.
“Some of the businesses here in downtown were empty,” Mills continued. “We put up pretend art galleries with the owners’ permission, and those galleries would draw attention to the empty space. Now, this entire strip is rented out.”
Chapman defines success with staying small and staying local, and by others allowing her the opportunity to dress them and create a unique style for them.
“I define success with every customer that leaves with a good experience,” Childs concluded. “At the end of the day, I didn’t do this for money. If I was trying to make a million dollars, I would have stayed in New York City. Success is to have an impact. As a chef, to offer a unique dining experience. It’s nerve wracking, but rewarding. I love what I do. There isn’t a day, no matter how tired I am, that I don’t love what I do.”