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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. And, you know, not just Saturday, it's the Saturday after the Thanksgiving. And as the days around the holiday become a kind of multi-day thermometer of retail success, maybe the day needs a new name. There's Gray Thursday, Black Friday, Cyber Monday. Today is the day people are encouraged to get out and support small businesses - many of them family-owned. And NPR's Sonari Glinton reports on Small Business Saturday.

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: I'm here on Main Street in the historic part of downtown Littleton, Colorado, which is just outside of Denver, and everywhere I look there are a bunch of small mom and pop shops. I'm standing in front of a spice store. Across the way, there's a wine store. There's a men's clothing boutique. And all up and down this street, there's small bars and restaurants and businesses. Main Street, Littleton, Colorado - this is exactly the place that Small Business Saturday is supposed to help.

DAVE DRAKE: Hi.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Hi.

DRAKE: Are you here to pick up a picture? It's done? Is it the mirror?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: No. You guys called me weeks ago and I have not been here.

DRAKE: That's OK. My name is Dave Drake. I'm with Colorado Frame and Savvy Stuff.

GLINTON: So, I can see the frames. What's the savvy stuff?

DRAKE: Ah. That's the women's accessories, the purses, the scarves, the decorations.

GLINTON: Drake has owned this shop on Main Street in Littleton for 34 years. He says he and his fellow business owners give customers what they don't expect.

DRAKE: It's unique, it's fun, it's local. We will carry products that they won't find anywhere else except in downtown Littleton, in the historic area, such as a poster of the old racetrack that used to be down here. And across the street, she carries art and products that were made here locally. They won't find that anywhere else. So, if they want to see it, they've got to come here.

GLINTON: Drake says he's seen a difference during the holiday season since businesses along the strip in Littleton started participating in Small Business Saturday three years ago. The government estimates that last year 100 million people participated in Small Business Saturday. The idea grew out of a program from American Express. Critics charge it's a way for the company to court small business who often don't take AmEx cards because of higher fees. The company continues to spend millions promoting the day.

(SOUNDBITE OF AD)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Some people put everything into their work, their name on the door, and their heart into their community. Small Business Saturday is a day to show our support.

GLINTON: The day has also drawn support from the White House. Karen Mills heads the Small Business Administration.

KAREN MILLS: Half the people who work in this country own or work for a small business. You know, two out of every three net new jobs come from small businesses.

GLINTON: Those small businesses are vital to the country's economic recovery, say Chris Christopher of IHS Global Insight.

CHRIS CHRISTOPHER: It's noticeable that the employment numbers, even though above water, haven't been the greatest, and one of the reasons is small business is not doing that well.

GLINTON: Christopher says he doesn't expect small retailers to help with the job outlook anytime soon. That's because they're being squeezed between the big chains stores on one side and the online companies on the other.

CHRISTOPHER: The small businesses are just having a hard time competing, you know, given the financial meltdown and the anemic growth in its aftermath, especially on consumer spending, and they can't compete on prices, and they can't compete in terms of outreach, advertising and other issues like that. So, they're really having a hard time of it.

GLINTON: Christopher says, despite people's best intentions to help small businesses, many consumers are likely to forget them when they go shopping online on Cyber Monday. Sonari Glinton, NPR News, Denver.

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