With Black Friday looming and holiday shopping on everyone’s to-do list, shoppers are encouraged to visit their area stores for Small Business Saturday and beyond.

Regional representatives of the U.S. Small Business Administration visited some of their local patrons Tuesday to shine a light on the niches they fill in a landscape increasingly dominated by online shopping.

“Small businesses add a special dimension to holiday shopping,” said Seattle District Office Director Kerrie Hurd at a breakfast gathering at Hazel’s Good Eats in Clarkston. “And it’s one that we want to draw attention to, because what we experience at those small businesses not only helps develop the character of the community and provide jobs, but they also provide a unique shopping experience where maybe the products are a little more different.”

With Small Business Saturday coming up this weekend, Spokane SBA branch office Manager Joel Nania reminded shoppers that small business owners are their neighbors who can offer a higher level of quality and customer service because they actually live in the communities where they work.

“Those two attributes are what we always profess to small businesses,” Nania said. “You don’t necessarily have to be the low-cost producer. You need to have the best quality, and that takes the form of products that you’re selling, customer service, atmosphere. All those things add up. Higher price, but higher quality. People still want that.”

Technical advisers affiliated with the SBA have also been busy helping small businesses increase their online presence so they can compete with much larger retailers like Amazon and Walmart, especially for items with local flair that can’t be found elsewhere.

“I think of it more like a concierge,” Hurd said of the services provided by locally owned stores. “They’re serving the community, versus just having shelves of merchandise. That’s what makes them really special.”

The SBA extends its reach by contributing funding to four nationwide “resource partners”: the Small Business Development Center, the SCORE network of free volunteer small business mentors, the Veterans Business Outreach Center and the Women’s Business Centers. And while those counseling services are valuable, Nania said that finally being able to personally discuss those and other resources with business owners after the lifting of pandemic restrictions has been reinvigorating.

The team, which included Aziz Makhani of the Washington Small Business Development Center, also visited several small business owners Monday in Moscow. They toured Clarkston businesses Tuesday, some of which are offering holiday promotions. Judi Wutzke, owner of And Books Too, said the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association gift guide recently distributed in the Lewiston Tribune contains coupons for discounts in her store.

Lisa Byers of Wasem’s said the store’s holiday decorations are back this year after a pandemic break in 2020. There is also an upcoming giveaway of bags of artisan caramels that contain various discount coupons, and Santa will be at the store for the two Saturdays following the Dec. 4 Clarkston Lighted Christmas Parade.

Jill Koch of Beamers Hells Canyon Tours in Clarkston said the business is offering its usual holiday special for buy-one-get-one free tickets for full-day tours that can be used any time during the typical May-September season.

A representative of Lancer Lanes in Clarkston said the venue is trying to book as many holiday parties as it can. It also offers catering for those parties, including buffets based around something as fancy as prime rib or as simple as chicken strips. And Sam Worrell, owner of Roosters Waterfront Restaurant and Bar and Hazel’s, said that while his eateries are always busy with their day-to-day routines, they do offer occasional specials. He said Roosters may also try using some portable “igloos” to shelter patrons on its bar deck during the winter.

Nania and Hurd said they were encouraged by all the creativity they’ve seen on their tours. Nania added that the pandemic actually helped introduce a lot of small business owners to the SBA as it helped them through the application process for aid programs like its Paycheck Protection Program.

“A lot of small businesses didn’t know about our resources, and now they do,” he said, before standing an old quote from Ronald Reagan on its head. “We’re here from the federal government, and we’re truly here to help.”

Mills may be contacted at jmills@lmtribune.com