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Obama, thousands of shoppers help small businesses get a head start on the holidays

U.S. President Barack Obama shops with daughter Malia at Politics and Prose in Washington, November 30, 2013. (MARY F. CALVERT/REUTERS)

Americans — including the president — helped local businesses get a big jump on the holiday season by “shopping small” on Small Business Saturday.

Shoppers familiar with the campaign spent an estimated $5.7 billion at small, independently owned stores on Saturday, up slightly from $5.5 billion last year, according to a new report by the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB). Consumer awareness of the campaign ticked up, too, from 67 percent of shoppers to 71 percent.

Of those aware, nearly half said they shopped at a small business on Saturday.

“We are very pleased that so many Americans sought to give back by shopping small this Small Business Saturday,” NFIB President Dan Danner said in a statement, adding that he hopes “that support of small firms, retailers, restaurants and other independent businesses continues throughout the holiday season and all year round.”

Started in 2010 by American Express to encourage shoppers to patron small retailers on the busiest shopping weekend of the year, the effort has become increasingly important for local merchants hoping to get a head start on the shopping season. Government officials in every state, including 41 governors, formally endorsed the holiday this year, and the campaign has recently garnered public support from several members of Congress.

“In just four years, the nation has adopted Small Business Saturday and made it part of the holiday shopping tradition,” Susan Sobbott, president of American Express OPEN, said in a statement.

While many local shops benefitted from the national campaign, only one scored a visit from the first family.

President Obama and his two daughters, Malia and Sasha, knocked out some of their holiday shopping during a visit Saturday to Politics and Prose, a small bookstore in Northwest Washington. Obama bought 21 books for readers of “every age group from 5 to 52,” he said.

Among the titles he purchased with his own credit card were “Harold and the Purple Crayon,” “The Kite Runner” and “Half Brother,” the White House reported. On his way out, the president also gave a “generous” cash donation to the Washington Literarcy Center, according to Bradley Graham, one of the store’s owners.

Related: The full list of the books the president bought at Politics and Prose

“It was great to have the nation’s first reader show up, especially on that day,” Graham, who with his wife bought the store in 2011, said in an interview.

Earlier in the day, Obama tweeted: “When our small businesses do well, our communities do well. Join me and visit a small business near you today to celebrate #SmallBizSat.”

This was not the first family’s first trip to Politics and Prose. Michelle Obama earlier this year stopped by to sign copies of her book, “American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America.”

“We thought that might have been our one White House visit for the year,” Graham said.

Opened in 1984, the shop has also hosted events with President Clinton and renowned author J.K. Rowling. Obama called it “a wonderful bookstore” while checking out Saturday.

This was the third year in a row the president has stopped in a local bookshop on Small Business Saturday. In 2011, Obama and his daughters stopped by Kramerbooks in Dupont Circle, and last year, he shopped at One More Page Books in Arlington, Va.

In the weeks following that visit, One More Page’s holiday sales jumped 45 percent over the previous year, according to Eileen McGervey, the shop’s owner.

Graham says the visit helped kickstart the holiday season for Politics and Prose, which remained busy throughout the weekend. The store has enjoyed record sales the past couple holiday seasons, and he says he is “cautiously optimistic” it can set another record this year.

Related: Video of the president shopping on Small Business Saturday

Follow J.D. Harrison and On Small Business on Twitter.

J.D. Harrison covers startups, small business and entrepreneurship, with a focus on public policy, and he runs the On Small Business blog.



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