The Blue Envelope Boutique is in its second year of operation in downtown Willoughby, and as the custom paper products shop prepares for the holiday season, its owners hope to ride on the momentum of Small Business Saturday.

The Blue Envelope Boutique is in its second year of operation in downtown Willoughby, and as the custom paper products shop prepares for the holiday season, its owners hope to ride on the momentum of Small Business Saturday.

That's why co-owners Rachel Trem and Rebecca Marich are participating in this year's small-business counterpart to Black Friday and Cyber Monday that was born in 2010 and founded by American Express -- ironically enough.

American Express reported that last year's small-business holiday generated $5.5 billion in consumer spending at small businesses, with an awareness level of 67 percent.

Marich said she didn't see a higher level of traffic last year, but she's optimistic that this Saturday will be different.

"American Express has done a great job promoting it this year," Marich said. "People are actually talking about it and know what it is."

Aside from creating cards, decorations and other paper-based products for customers, Marich says the store also sells crafts from other artists, including locally based Colleen Smith and B. pottery. She said the holiday season makes up about 60 percent of the store's retail sales.

"I think we offer a selection of things you can't find at other places and if you really want a unique special gift, this is the place to come instead of buying a candle at Target," Marich said.

Blue Envelope, at 4140 Erie St., is one of countless businesses that are accepting American Express cards and its $10 credit on Saturday.

People have up until the end of Saturday to register an American Express card at, and then can earn the credit upon spending $10 or more at a small business.

Shoppers can find a directory of businesses that accept American Express cards at and scroll down to the link labeled "Go Out and Shop."

American Express also distributed welcome mats, shopping tote bags and other items this year to businesses and other groups.

All of the items include the "Shop Small" insignia.

Marich and Trem received their 50 tote bags and welcome mat last week.

In addition to what American Express has in store for shoppers Saturday, Marich said Blue Envelope is offering free gift wrapping for any purchase of $50 or more and 50 percent off of a second custom stationery service, in which a customer designs his or her own stack of greeting cards.

The city of Mentor also is participating in Small Business Saturday, distributing Shop Small mats, tote bags, balloons and decals to its independent businesses.

The city also has continued its Buy Local co-op advertising campaign for its fifth year.

The city sent out letters to 118 independent restaurants and retailers, partnering with the first 15 businesses that responded. The city then produced five in-house 30-second commercials dedicated to the businesses.

The commercials are set to play on Time Warner Cable channels up until Dec. 24.

The city pays for half of the advertising costs, equaling out to a $5,000 investment, said Ronald Traub, director of economic and community development for the city.

He said investing in the prosperity of small businesses builds a more prosperous city.

"If we had the same retailers as in any community, why would someone shop in Mentor?" Traub said.

He said the city defines one-third of its retailers as "independent" businesses.

Playmatters at 8646 Mentor Ave. is one of the 15 businesses that partnered with the city in this year's Buy Local campaign. In addition, the toy store, which sells lower-tech and more hands-on toys, is participating in Small Business Saturday for the fourth year in a row.

Michael Ziegenhagen, owner of the Mentor store and its sister stores in Solon, Shaker Heights and Pepper Pike, said in addition to the American Express credit, his stores are offering their own $10 credit for transactions of $60 or more.

Although his stores get a steady amount of traffic throughout the year from birthdays, "people buy most toys during Christmas," he said.

He said when consumers share some of their holiday dollars with local businesses, they invest in entrepreneurship, creativity and local tourism.

"People don't go to places because there's a Walmart there," Ziegenhagen said. "They come because there are cute, quaint shops and that's what we want Northeast Ohio to have."

2013 The News-Herald (Willoughby, Ohio)

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