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Lakes Region businesses gearing up for Small Business Saturday

LACONIA — If you’re looking for a great cup of coffee, and/or a classic vinyl record from a late 20th century rock and roll band, the chances are that you’ll find both, here, on Main Street in the City on the Lakes.

Ahead of Small Business Saturday — which is an international marketing initiative begun by American Express in 2010 to encourage shopping on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, according to Wikipedia — a group of elected and appointed officials, including U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Mike Vlacich, the regional administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, toured several businesses on Tuesday in Laconia’s downtown.

Ninety-five percent of businesses in the Granite State, said Vlacich, are considered “small” in that by the SBA definition, they have 500 or fewer employees.

Small Business Saturday promotes shopping, he said, as well as dining and going to a show, perchance, at Laconia’s renovated Colonial Theatre.

“The facts are clear that last year, there was $26 billion worth of sales nationally on Small Business Saturday,” said Vlacich, adding that studies have shown that 70% of consumers who shop at a business on Small Business Saurday will return to it at other times of the year.

Karen Bassett, who with her husband, Reuben, owns or co-owns five businesses in the downtown, including Wayfarer Coffee Roasters, said Small Business Saturday is important, but in other ways, just another day.

“We try to promote local producers year-round,” said Bassett, “So that’s not changing for the holidays” and Small Business Saturday.

“We’re a meeting place for the community,” she said, and have been since the original Wayfarer, which now has a satellite location in Lakeport, opened.

“We love Laconia. We think it has the bones to support a really thriving community,” she said.

In May, Wayfarer hosted the inaugural New England Coffee Festival and it was a huge hit, said Bassett.

“We had 5,000 attendees and 50 vendors,” she said, as well as coffee-industry representatives.

“The business community in Laconia is very supportive, definitely community over competition,” Bassett said.

Karmen Gifford, the executive director of the Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce, said Laconia has seen an influx of entrepreneurs, like the Bassetts, come into the downtown in recent years, and with them, “We’re starting to see younger people.”

The Chamber of Commerce currently has 510 members, she said, about a third of which are tourism-related, while the rest are service oriented.

At NH Vintage Vinyl, Sam Read and Angela Stewart informed Shaheen and Vlacich about how everything old — such as analog stereo equipment and vinyl records — is new again.

NH Vintage Vinyl opened on July 1 of this year, said Read, and business has been “very good, very good.”

A native of nearby Gilford, Read said “Laconia is coming back, and it’s awesome.” Also awesome, he said, is the fact that new pressings of old albums are “selling like hotcakes.”

Charlie St. Clair, who owns the Laconia Antique Center, observed that “every day is small business day and every day is important to small businesses” because “every dollar is hard earned.”

The reopening of the Colonial Theatre in July 2021 “is a godsend” to downtown Laconia, he said, and has brought new businesses into the area.

On Small Business Saturday, the Laconia Antique Center “will provide the excellent service and retail experience that we do all year long,” said St. Clair, who is the executive director of Laconia Motorcycle Week and who recently, after a hiatus, was reelected to the N.H. House of Representatives.

A Democrat like Shaheen, St. Clair said he was nonetheless “always thrilled to see” elected officials of either stripe “take the trouble to visit with businesspeople in the City of Laconia.”