Plaid Friday is an after-Thanksgiving event that started in Oakland in 2009 to promote local businesses instead of big-box stores on the day after Thanksgiving. In 2010, American Express started Small Business Saturday, which promotes shopping at local businesses on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Since then, these events have taken root across the country including Amador County.

With Thanksgiving exactly one month away, the Amador County Chamber of Commerce has started to promote both Plaid Friday and Small Business Saturday. I talked with Chamber CEO Jamie Armstrong about how she’s not only promoting Plaid Friday and Small Business Saturday but also how she’s helping businesses and Amador County navigate through what promises to be the most interesting holiday season in memory.

Jamie ArmstrongArmstrong noted that it’s very important to use the word local instead of just small. “Small can be defined as many things. You can have local businesses that are really important and vital to the community but aren’t necessarily small, and vice versa, you can have small but are really important.”

The Chamber’s goal is to get businesses to sign up to promote Plaid Friday. There is no cost to sign up to be promoted in a special Plaid Friday insert in the Amador Ledger Dispatch in its post-Thanksgiving Friday issue. Shoppers are encouraged to wear plaid clothing as they shop, and businesses are encouraged to provide a special offer for shoppers wearing plaid clothing such as a special discount, a gift with a purchase, or other special treats.

The Chamber also has a page on its website pointing to businesses with special offers on Plaid Friday and Small Business Saturday. “In the past two years,” Armstrong said, “I’ve tried rolling both Plaid Friday and Small Business Saturday into a whole shop local weekend following Thanksgiving.”

Safety is Job One

Armstrong’s first priority when helping businesses succeed during this year’s holiday season is safety. “The Chamber has worked really closely with the [county] health department, and we don’t want to do anything that’s going to hurt the health of Amador County,” Armstrong said. “We’re leaning on the health professionals to make sure we’re keeping things as safe as possible, especially going into winter and flu season. The Chamber is here to help keep businesses safe.”

To help do that, the Chamber held two free personal protective equipment (PPE) giveaway events in October. Some business owners, especially non-members, came to the drive-up event with some suspicions. “They were asking me, ‘What’s the catch? How is this being paid for?’, Armstrong said. “Through partnerships and having those connections. There is no catch. The product is free.

“Would I love you to be a member? Yes,” Armstrong added. “Would I love you to support the Chamber? Yes. But the Chamber wasn’t doing this for a payday. The Chamber didn’t get paid for it.”

The Chamber still has a lot of supplies and Armstrong has received numerous e-mail messages from businesses who weren’t able to come for the October events. In those cases, she arranges with those businesses to have them pick up the supplies they need. Armstrong also plans to have “open office” days so businesses can come to get their supplies.

Don’t Stop Talking

Aside from providing PPE to businesses, Armstrong noted the other goal of the Chamber during the pandemic is to keep businesses informed.  One way the Chamber is doing that is through the business resource pages on its website to give businesses the tools they need to survive.

The Chamber has held a couple of online “conversations” around different topics in the past few months, and Armstrong is thinking about holding another such conversation during the holiday season. “I want to encourage retail businesses to share their ideas of what they might be rolling out, what they’ve seen or read that’s successful,” she said. Armstrong added that she feels businesses want the Chamber to send them tips to help them succeed, not re-send news releases constantly.

What’s more, Armstrong said, her job “is going to be making sure that businesses are communicating with their customers.” So, she added, businesses need to prepare.

“Now is the time to get their business ready, to make sure that they’re doing what they can to keep themselves safe and keep their customers safe,” Armstrong said. “Now is the time to be communicating what that looks like.” For example, she noted stores should offer online shopping if at all possible and not offering discounts for shopping in person in a short period of time that brings in more people into an indoor space.

“I encourage businesses to get as creative as possible and get into your consumers’ headspace,” Armstrong said. “People are willing to pay for convenience and add that special touch.”

Armstrong also needs to communicate with people who want to come to Amador County to shop. In response to people who have called the Chamber about coming to visit, Jamie and her staff have told people personally and through Chamber messaging that visitors need to respect social distancing guidelines, wear masks at all times, not congregate in groups larger than six people, and call ahead for reservations at restaurants and hotels. “All of those will be really important not just for Plaid Friday but for all of the holiday season,” Armstrong said.

In sum, Armstrong said that shopping locally, and having local businesses support each other, is key to a healthy holiday season. “From everything I’ve been reading about COVID, it’s the COVID cases that have come into the county have been from people traveling outside of the county and coming back in,” Armstrong said. “So, to me, if people are traveling from out of the county into the county, that would be the same thing. I think focusing more on generating money and traffic within our communities is better.”

Start Early

As of this writing, only three businesses have signed up for the Plaid Friday and Small Business Saturday events. Armstrong says you should consider signing up now. “People are already getting into the mindset to shop after Thanksgiving,” she said. “I find businesses a little more successful if they sign up earlier because people start looking ahead and planning for that day.”

Plaid Friday and Small Business SaturdayArmstrong also noted that the event keeps getting bigger every year. “Last year, we had about 40 businesses sign up. The more businesses we signed up, the more shoppers were getting out and exploring these deals.” If you’re interested, she said you need to contact the Chamber and provide them with the basics: what your business is, where you are, what your hours will be on Plaid Friday and Small Business Saturday, and the promotion you’re offering.

In sum, Armstrong is optimistic about the upcoming holiday season. “I’m so proud of all the businesses that have been able to — I think people are tired of hearing this word, but it really is a key word for 2020 — and that’s pivot,” she said.

“It’s all new, and the biggest thing is to keep everyone positive,” she added. “It’s going to be different, but it doesn’t mean it has to be bad, and it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have to be profitable.”

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