Small businesses vie for holiday shoppers' attention


At last count, America's economy is made up of 23 million small businesses, such as the ones along Broadway in Burlingame. But they are overshadowed on Black Friday by the crush of shoppers at shopping malls. And now, even major chains are putting the squeeze on them here on the main streets of the Bay Area.

Locals call it "the avenue." However, Burlingame Avenue isn't the cluster of one-of-a-kind, locally owned boutiques and shops it once was. Now it's increasingly dominated by chains -- ones often found at malls. And on this Black Friday, those chains have brought the predatory pricing that is threatening the viability of shops, such as Aida Opera Candies, in business for 65 years by four generations of the same family.

David: "Everyone talks about Black Friday. Everyone talks about 50, 60 percent off. You can't compete with that." Lorrie Basques with Aida Opera Candies: "I cannot do that. People come here because they're the ones who want to stay away from the malls. They don't want any part of it. And that's what saved me."

However, main streets across the region find that consumers have grown accustomed to and expect rock bottom prices. Manije Windell has owned her ladies boutique for 30 years, "People are looking for prices. And there are some people we have, and that's how we are surviving here. But not everybody any more."

Black Friday is followed by Small Business Saturday, a campaign to get shoppers to support the stores owned by sole proprietors. David Williams, a lifelong Burlingame resident, has seen so many of the small shops disappear, "You do like to support those, unfortunately, you get a small coffee shop, and you get certain people like to support the small coffee shop, and then you'll have your other coffee shops, and they'll have lines out the door. It is what it is."

Nick Bovis, owner of Burlingame's Broadway Grill, says small businesses need a boost," Spend some money. You know, help the local economy, and start with the local businesses, small businesses. Help 'em out. Go spend some money That's what I have to say."

On top of tough competition, small business owners say they're also getting slammed this holiday season by the uncertainty of tax rates in January -- the so called fiscal cliff. One shop owner let two sales people go in anticipation of a big tax hike.

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