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Alaskans talk Small Business Saturday

By Kirsten Swann 6:38 PM November 30, 2013

Drive to draw customers extends well beyond annual event

ANCHORAGE – Ask Lae Keobouala: He’ll say Nov. 30 was a day like any other.

The owner of Joy’s Corner stayed busy behind the counter of his Northway Mall café, brewing fresh espresso and selling sandwiches to the steady stream of customers trickling through his shop.

He’s never heard of Small Business Saturday.

The nationwide event – founded by American Express in 2010 – is a mom-and-pop alternative to Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Customers are encouraged to patronize local small businesses, and American Express estimated consumers spent $5.5 billion over the course of the day in 2012.

In Anchorage, some local businesses offered special sales, promoting the push online and via social media.

But for Keobouala, the drive to draw customers extends beyond the Saturday event. It’s a daily effort, he said. It means a livelihood for his family.

He has a handful of regular customers. They work at Kaiser’s Locksmith, Urban Vibe, Hood Wings and other locally owned small businesses at the East Anchorage mall. Every day, they exchange crumpled dollar bills and news, a microcosm of Alaskan economic activity.

When the other shops in the mall do well, so does Joy’s Corner.

“I’ve been working like a maniac!” said one customer, jogging over to Joy’s Corner to pick up a few bottled drinks before returning to his job in another corner of the mall.

“You work too much, just like me!” Keobouala said, laughing.

The work pays off, slowly but surely.

While Small Business Saturday didn’t bring much of a business boost to the mall Saturday, Keobouala said steady work enabled him to quit his second job at a local grocery store and spend more time with his young children, either at home or behind the counter of his family’s coffee shop.

He said small business, powered by other small businesses, makes his life a little better.

“I’m lucky,” he said.

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