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Grand Forks businesses encourage consumers to shop small

Local small businesses are welcoming another installment of the annual answer to Black Friday.

Small Business Saturday marks its seventh installment today. The event encourages consumers to shop at local businesses in their community.

Last year, 95 million people shopped at small businesses on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Those shoppers spent more than $16 billion, according to the National Federation of Independent Business.

Ferguson Books & More will mark the unofficial holiday with its $10 bag sale, owner Dane Ferguson said. That allows customers to load up a bag with as many used books as they can.

"Our Black Friday sales have been going pretty constant," Ferguson said. "But on Small Business Saturday, we've kind of almost seen (it grow) to the point where it's closer and closer to being on par with Black Friday."

American Express launched Small Business Saturday in 2010. Since then, it has changed the financial incentives for cardholders to "shop small," starting with a $25 statement credit to giving customers double credit points, according to Fortune.

"I can go buy airline tickets and get double points on, but I can also shop at Ferguson Books or Ace Hardware or Popplers Music or whatever and get double points, too, which is kind of cool," Ferguson said.

Public officials also have become involved in promoting small businesses. U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., will shop at several downtown Grand Forks businesses Saturday afternoon, according to her office.

But for business owners such as Ciara Stockeland, the event is about more than driving more people into stores. She wants to shine a light on some of the regulatory burdens placed on small businesses, such as a federal rule expanding mandatory overtime pay to millions of workers that was set to go into effect next week before a federal judge blocked it Tuesday.

The rule was intended to boost stagnant wages, but Stockeland said it would affect decisions about whether workers were paid on a salaried or hourly basis.

"If in reality this allows us to keep people salaried at a spot that makes sense for our businesses like we have in the past, this would be so positive," said Stockeland, the owner of the women's clothing boutique Mode, which has a franchise location in Grand Forks. "At first glance, (I'm) very excited that there's a positive swing in the right direction for smaller businesses like mine."