Shoppers make big statement on Small Business Saturday

In the front window of his store on Marine Avenue on Balboa Island, Neil Roberts turned over a batch of candles in to smooth out the bottoms.

The store was empty Saturday morning, but reusable bags with a small-business slogan hung on the bench outside and beckoned people in from the crowded sidewalk.

This year, as in past years, the two owners of CandlEssence took part in Small Business Saturday, a promotion American Express created in 2010 to help mom-and-pop stores compete with big box retailers' Black Friday bonanza of shopping.

"It's just reminding people that there are small businesses that don't offer 80% off their products but still need to survive," Stacey Roberts said.

Up and down the island's main drag, small stores like CandlEssence sported mats at their door reading "Welcome to the neighborhood. Shop small."

"It's kind of like Mayberry in the midst of Newport," Stacey Roberts said.

Inside, CandlEssence is a quintessential neighborhood retailer.

Homemade candles, with scents like brown sugar and cranberry woods, line the blue walls. Customers sign a guest book. And Oliver, an aging curly-haired dog, wags when someone new walks in.

"This is the kind of place you want a business like this," said Stacey Roberts, noting that CandlEssence has been on the island for seven years.

The holidays are the busiest time of year, but, Stacey said, "This is a weird holiday season."

CandlEssence makes its products in 75-candle batches. it can't start producing fall scents until people are buying them. The hot weather and late Thanksgiving holiday have kept people buying summer scents, the owners explained.

Not many people were door-busting for candles, souvenirs or boutique clothes on Marine Avenue, but retailers there were thankful to remind shoppers to think local.

"The winter is tough," said Marcy Fowler, who has owned Island Time, a souvenir store, since 2012.

Tourists provide the biggest portion of her sales, and Small Business Saturday didn't rival her busiest day— the Fourth of July — but she did draw in some customers with a buy-two-get-the-third-free promotion.

At CandlEssence, Stacey Roberts said laid-back calm of Balboa is part of the draw of running a business on the island instead of a mall catering to anonymous crowds.

"We enjoy being part of the community here," she said.

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