It’s Small Business Saturday in Charlottesville and people are out for the experience.

A teeming throng of holiday shoppers and city market habitués pack the parking lot on Water Street, perusing the pop up tents and tables sheltering the wares of local vendors for the annual Charlottesville Holiday market.

Grass-fed pork chops and paintings of kittens; quilts, scarves and jewelry and warm winter mittens are proffered beside pot pies, gourmet doughnuts, tacos and coffee. About 200 people mill among the estimated 100 shopkeepers.

“The first day is of the holiday market is a lot of fun and people are enjoying the time out after Thanksgiving and Black Friday, but the sales really start picking up later in December,” said Edith Conti, of Edith Conti Fashion and Accessories, standing behind the table that serves as a counter under vendor tent.

“The best day of the market is usually closer to Christmas when people are coming by and asking if we still have that item we had a couple of weeks ago,” Conti said. “When it’s near the holiday, people swoop in because they know they’re running out of time.”

Small Business Saturday is part of five-day holiday shopping extravaganza that includes Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Giving Tuesday.

Black Friday has been the beginning of the Christmas shopping season since about 1952, although it wasn’t officially named until the 1980s, when it was claimed to be the tipping point for retailers to become profitable.

Cyber Monday is the second-oldest in the shopping pantheon, created as a marketing tactic in 2005 by the National Retail Federation to promote e-commerce. Small Business Saturday was created by American Express in 2010 to bolster small retailers and Giving Tuesday was formally created in 2012 by the United Nations Foundation to support nonprofits and take some focus off of holiday commercialism.

Although there are plenty of sales at open stores, Sunday does not have an official shopping name. Federal highway officials, police agencies and travel organizations, however, list it as one of the year’s heaviest travel days by plane, train or automobile.

The National Retail Federation estimated that 71 million U.S. shoppers planned to hit the stores Saturday and that three-quarters of them planned to go to small businesses. The federation expects holiday retail sales this season to grow between 3.8% and 4.2% with consumers expecting to drop $1,048 on holiday cheer, or 4% more than was spent last year.

The federation estimates that holiday sales represent 20% of annual retail sales each year with hobby, toy and game stores reporting about 30%. About 40% of shoppers began their holiday spree in October this year, the federation reported.

On the Downtown Mall, Saturday shoppers push strollers, hold hands, chat in outdoor voices and saunter from restaurant to storefront.

“The Friday after Thanksgiving was just yesterday, but the season looks like it will be very good,” said Lynne Goldman, of the eponymous Lynne Goldman Elements. “People are making an effort to visit local businesses and support them.”

Goldman said she believes shopping has morphed into an experience rather than a necessity.

“We’ve been in business for 30 years and we’ve seen a lot of change in the local economy. Charlottesville is a destination town for people to visit and a lot of that comes from the wedding industry and the wine industry,” she said.

“People come to visit and they want to soak in all of what Charlottesville has to offer and shopping is part of that. They come downtown to eat and then visit shops. They want to get the flavor of the town,” she said.

Conti agreed. She’s a regular at the City Market, where she offers hand-dyed silk scarves, hand-knit accessories, felt shawls and jewelry. She began her sideline business in 1999 after friends discovered her fashion sense and seamstress skills and began commissioning clothing.

“People come in, they get their coffee, they get something to eat, they look around, they buy their vegetables or their meat for the week and then they look for things they want. It’s an experience in itself,” Conti said. “Most of the farmers are gone for the holiday market, although some are still around, and the arts and crafts people come out. It gives it a whole different experience.”

“The day after Thanksgiving really belongs to the bigger retailers, but on Saturday, people want to go out and relax a little,” Goldman said. “They want an experience and visit small shops because they spent Friday in crowds.”

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