Black Friday and Cyber Monday stand out as some of the busiest retail days each year, and nestled between them is Small Business Saturday. Established in 2010 by American Express, Small Business Saturday is dedicated to celebrating the small businesses supporting their communities across the United States.
Here in Downtown Fort Wayne, Small Business Saturday has evolved into a distinct local event called Holly Shopping.
Trolleys transport shoppers throughout Downtown, making stops near local retailers and restaurants, that offer special deals and holiday cheer to all who stop by. As an informal kickoff to the holiday season, Holly Shopping encourages people to explore Downtown’s retail offerings while backing the local entrepreneurs integral to the city’s vibrant landscape.
To further support the goal of keeping it local, Downtown Fort Wayne launched a community-based gift card this year. The Downtown Fort Wayne Gift Card can be used at one of the participating 37 retailers located in the 99 blocks of Downtown. Both digital and physical gift cards are available.
As a consumer, there are benefits to shopping locally. Small businesses recirculate more money into local economies than national chains do. When you spend your money at local businesses, you contribute to a cycle that reinvests in the local economy, helping create more jobs within the community. Local businesses are also more likely to give back to the community and are more likely to have a higher commitment to remaining in their towns, whereas larger, chain corporations have less of a commitment to individual cities and towns.
But supporting local businesses extends beyond just boosting the local economy. Behind each local business is an entrepreneur with a dream or idea, and community support holds significant value to them, surpassing the monetary aspect of consumer transactions.
Five local business owners to learn what it means when consumers choose their stores.
In 2011, David Rabineau found himself retired and not necessarily by choice. After a long career in retail, working for larger corporations, the company he was working for had decided to eliminate his position.
Rabineau says at his age, it was hard for him to find another job, and eventually, he found himself fed up with his forced retirement.
“In 2015, I woke up one morning and said, ‘I can’t do this– I can’t be in retirement anymore. I cannot do it. It’s awful,’” he says. “You need to have a sense of purpose.”
Then, one night while watching television, Rabineau says an idea hit him. Working from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. the next morning, he created a business plan for what is now the David Talbott Collection.
Around the same time, the City Exchange, a small business incubator in Downtown Fort Wayne, was opening. Seeing the opportunity in front of him, Rabineau opened his business there. Eventually, he would move to his current location on West Berry Street.
David Talbott Collection is a homey, menswear store, selling sports coats, dress shirts and pants, shoes, hats, gloves and an assortment of other goods. Online the store is self-described as “Old Time Haberdashery Menswear and Accessories.” Inside the store, the fixtures are antiques, Rabineau sourced himself. One of them, he points out, comes from Patterson-Fletcher, an old men’s clothing store that used to be where The Find is located now.
Rabineau is all about the customers– he says it’s his favorite part of being a business owner. The goal is to create a great experience for customers, one that makes them want to return, which seems to be working as he describes his customers are “fiercely loyal.” He says the customers are the reason he’s still open today.
“They are amazing,” he says. “They’re the only reason we’ve been able to continue…I wanted this to be customer-centric. I want it to be something that they feel they’re a part of. I know this place wouldn’t exist if they weren’t doing what they’re doing for me.”
For Rabineau, entrepreneurship is a passion project, upheld by customers who opt to shop locally and, in turn, help keep the venture alive.
“I hope it continues,” he says. “I never thought it would be this much fun. I got to have a second career. When I lost my job, I was in a panic. Now, we have fun– I want the ride to go on a little bit longer.”
Continuing the dreams of loved ones
For one Downtown retailer, the business they operate isn’t merely a personal passion project; rather, it represents the continuation of a loved one’s aspirations.
Lindsey Hively and her father, Gary Hively, started Poptique, a gourmet popcorn shop with locations in Downtown Fort Wayne and Columbia City, in 2008.
Lindsey came from a family of entrepreneurs– her father was an entrepreneur long before their popcorn venture with a carpet cleaning business and a vacuum store in Columbia City. The Hively family has always favored popcorn as a go-to snack, making gourmet popcorn a natural fit for Lindsey’s business, according to their website.
Gary says Lindsey was the mastermind behind Poptique and he was the guy behind the scenes. He says she was “an entrepreneur out of the womb.”
“Really, it was her business,” he says. “She was the one who created all this. I was just the partner.”
When Lindsey passed away in 2015, Gary knew he had to keep the business going. Nowadays, he has set aside his personal ventures to concentrate on Poptique’s success. He’s dedicated to finding ways to sustain their stores and strategizing for their future growth.
They’ve been on South Calhoun in Downtown Fort Wayne for two years now and Gary says they have plans to expand, including bringing in some exclusive beverages to their storefronts. While they might have a growth mindset, he says the Fort Wayne storefront holds a lot of sentimental value.
Visiting Poptique, customers will find freshly made, small-batch popcorn with unique flavors– most of which Lindsey came up with herself.
“One thing you’re getting is popcorn that’s made in small batches,” Gary explains. “We use the best ingredients we can get our hands on. Everything is popped in coconut oil. If you go to the big box stores or even a lot of the online places, it’s all a huge volume thing. They put preservatives or what-have-you in it. We don’t have preservatives with anything we make. We try to make quality number one– quality and service.”
Poptique also has a distinctive online presence, where they offer custom popcorn boxes and tins, which are often chosen for occasions like employee appreciation, anniversaries, or sent as thoughtful gifts. They also create smaller bags of popcorn as party favors for weddings and other events. For the holidays, they sell themed “Naughty” and “Nice” boxes, which Gary says were also a product of Lindsey’s imagination.
He says his work is a continuation of the dreams and vision Lindsey had for her business.
“If she was still here, we’d probably have five or six stores out there by now,” he says. “She was quite the go-getter. Like I said, I think she came out of the womb as an entrepreneur.”
Supporting other small businesses and talent pipelines
Some entrepreneurs, like Reboot, are focused on providing support services to other small businesses. As an IT company located in Downtown Fort Wayne, Reboot services small to mid-size businesses in the region that don’t have their own in-house IT departments. Co-owner and Fort Wayne natives Landin McSorely and Jeff Yates say their proximity to their customers is an important part of their service.
“For the IT side, it’s just that we’re right there,” McSorely explains. “There are a lot of companies who are trying to do everything remotely. We’ve bridged that gap. We’re kind of like a hybrid. We visit our customers on a regular basis. We’re really big on communication, being face-to-face, and working alongside them, you know, as they grow, we grow.”
Part of their growth was adding a storefront in recent years.
“We had a good location here that we liked,” McSorely says. “We thought about a coffee store, but there’s quite a few of those around, and finding someone to run that was not ideal. So we knew we had the space we knew we wanted to do something with it.”
The storefront features toys, puzzles, and games for kids (or kids at heart). McSorely says everything in the store lends itself to the STEM field or is adjacent to it.
“The store is fun,” he says. “Jeff and I both have young kids. We were finding games and toys for our own kids so why not lean into that a bit and find something that’s not done in Fort Wayne? We’re always shopping and a lot of the stuff is just things we find fascinating and that we like playing with and showing our kids.”
As a consumer, one might ask what the benefit of buying toys and games from a local seller like Reboot is. McSorely says it’s the ability to try before you buy and the in-store experience.
“We encourage people to come in and play here,” he says. “We’ve actually opened up most of the products. Somebody on our team has played with the majority of all the products, so it’s all about coming in and playing a game, and learning about what we have.
McSorely says for an IT company that is notability screen-forward, very few, if any of the products they sell, have a screen element. They hope to inspire children to learn how things work and potentially encourage them to explore STEM careers, so when people shop at their storefront, it promotes that mission.
“Both Jeff and I had teachers that helped us,” McSorely says. “We got to do stuff that other kids didn’t get to do. We got pulled into computer projects and things like that. We’ve always wanted to give back in that same way.”
In the past, Reboot has hosted Reboot Labs, where up to 20 children can complete a science lab in their store. They’ve also hosted coding camps. Both are projects they hope to continue in the future.
As long-life Fort Wayne residents, McSorely says support from local consumers means a lot to them as business owners and it enables them to contribute to the talent pipeline in their own way.
“We both live here and grew up here,” he says. “We love seeing what Fort Wayne has done and how it’s grown. We’re excited to see it. We work with some of the high school kids here, you know, they stay in town and grow, so it’s neat to see companies reaching out locally and seeing what is in their own backyard.”
Supporting the community as a whole
Tucked beside the Pure Movement Pilates Studio on West Jefferson is Idlehour—a boutique that not only sells clothing but also offers patrons a collection of health and wellness items. The brainchild of Annie Henry, Idlehour first opened its doors in 2015.
After moving to Fort Wayne from Chicago, Henry says she felt “shopping deprived.” Then, after the owner of Pure Movement hosted a trunk show and a representative from the brand told her that it was the highest-selling truck show they’d ever had, Henry felt inspired.
With two small children at home, Henry says she was feeling antsy to do something, so she opened a boutique selling workout clothes. Eventually, it expanded to other types of clothing, but the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic pushed her to cut back on Idlehour’s retail space.
“We’re always going to carry some leggings and workout gear,” says Henry. “Then, every season we do a capsule. It’s a much smaller buy than what we used to. We have a website, but actually, most of what we sell online is to Fort Wayne people.”
And this year, Idlehour has also made an effort to be more coordinated with Pure Movement.
“We’re sort of trying to be more wellness-based and compliment the pilates side of things,” Henry says. “Some of the stuff goes along with the pilates studio and whatever classes they’re teaching.”
As a small business owner, Henry recognizes the distinctive charm that local businesses bring to cities, attracting people to visit and make a home here.
“We’ve gotten written up in some really crazy magazines that say Fort Wayne is a top travel spot,” she says. “Reporters are always looking for something interesting to write about and we have to keep supporting those things so they’re here.”
By her estimation, supporting small businesses is a vital part of maintaining the Fort Wayne people know and value today.
“I moved here in 2008, right when the financial crisis started and Fort Wayne has come so far,” she says. “You have to keep supporting local businesses or else they’re gonna dry up and we’ve seen some of them do that. If people could just remember to come Downtown and spend your money locally, it really helps the town as a whole.”
Supporting artisans near and far
Founded by Lorelei VerLee in 2011, Creative Women of the World is on a mission to combine business training, art and entrepreneurship to empower women to lift themselves out of poverty. They do that by selling goods made by vendors from around the world and giving artisans a market to reach consumers.
The store features products from more than 50 countries worldwide. Approximately 10 percent of the merchandise at Creative Women of the World is crafted by local women. The store also highlights a quarterly rotating display for local artists.
“Most of the vendors we work with either support people who are living under extreme poverty, people who have been trafficked or have worked in the sex industry, and disaster relief as well,” explains Executive Director Becky Stockert.
Inside shoppers can find jewelry made from various materials, like broken pottery or recycled saris. Creative Women of the World also sells bags, baskets, tea, coffee, and stationery. Around the holidays they also sell a unique assortment of ornaments. Everything in the store is fair trade, meaning whoever made the items is being paid a fair wage for their work.
As a nonprofit organization, Creative Women of the World uses their storefront to support artisans, locally and internationally. Proceeds from the store go toward creating and supporting programming like “Unlocking Your Design,” a financial literacy and business training program. To date, the program has been taught in 14 countries around the world and in Fort Wayne.
“Kind of like with our vendors, it’s helping people have more stable lives and helping them become more financially independent,” Stockert says. “We want women to be financially independent and have money to support themselves and their children. Around the world, the most people living in poverty are women and children and they are the most vulnerable.”
Creative Women of the World also hosts business training workshops and networking events in Fort Wayne, all supported by the consumers who shop at their store and purchase items from their international and local vendors.
“When you shop at Creative Women of the World, you are changing someone’s life, either locally or internationally. The organizations that we work with, and the vendors that we buy from are people who are in extremely difficult situations. Selling some of these products is a way to alleviate some of the suffering people are experiencing and to improve their lives. And the store supports our development. So by shopping in the store, you’re supporting our work of helping women become more financially stable.”