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Independent retailers look to Small Business Saturday to recoup sales after pandemic

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

It is a demanding time to run a business - rising prices, worker shortages, supply chain disruptions. And many businesses would like to try to make up for profits lost in the pandemic this very weekend. Isabella Casillas Guzman is head of the U.S. Small Business Administration and joins us now. Thanks very much for being with us.

ISABELLA CASILLAS GUZMAN: Oh, it's my pleasure to be here. Thanks for having me.

SIMON: What are your hopes? What are your concerns?

GUZMAN: Well, each year, the Saturday after Thanksgiving, we celebrate Small Business Saturday. And it's really a way for us to all show support for the small businesses that really define our neighborhoods and employ nearly half the workforce and create jobs. And Small Business Saturday was really created to help us all drive our customers into the doors of these beloved, local, small mom and pops that line our main streets.

And so, you know, today, we're hoping that businesses will be full of these consumers spending their holiday shopping dollars on small businesses and dining small and, you know, going to local venues to entertain small. And we really hope that they will have a strong season this year and really take them out of some of the challenges they've had during the pandemic.

SIMON: Let me - I have to ask. Obviously, there's - I'm trying to remember what this website is called - Amazon. You've heard of it?

GUZMAN: Yes.

SIMON: We should also note they are an NPR underwriter. There have been voices on all sides of the political divide calling for legislation that would curtail the size, the reach of Amazon. Are a lot of small businesses, despite the fact that they're concerned about being undersold by Amazon, also dependent on Amazon to sell their own goods?

GUZMAN: Well, that's right 'cause we've seen during COVID small businesses adopting technology at such high rates. They're going online to digital main streets, to open up their second location maybe online, to sell to a broader audience and really to stay in touch with their own consumers locally. And so we really have found that e-commerce has really become a critical part of the small business strategy these days. And so more and more, you know, consumers are able to find their local small businesses online. And we hope that they'll shop in person and online throughout this holiday season to really support them as they have been impacted by so many factors of COVID.

SIMON: So do you get concerned when there are calls to curtail the size of Amazon? Because although they might undersell small businesses, small businesses also need Amazon to distribute their goods to a larger market.

GUZMAN: Yeah, so there's so many platforms that small businesses really depend on to help them run their businesses more efficiently. And so I think, if anything, we want to make sure that they're supported and they're flexible to be able to use as many platforms as they can to reach their consumers. And I know that the Biden-Harris administration has worked so hard in trying to get our economy back on track. And, you know, going out today to shop small on Small Business Saturday will really help our smallest entities stay afloat during this time through whatever means and whatever platform they're able to reach their consumers.

SIMON: Director Guzman, I have to ask. There's an issue that's been getting attention across the country - organized theft from retail stores. Major retailers, including CVS and Best Buy, report a spike during the pandemic. I wonder what you hear from small businesses. What are your concerns there?

GUZMAN: Well, we want to make sure that that doesn't curtail any of the shopping. So many people were planning on doing that shopping in person. And small businesses will benefit from that as people - you know, finally, with these strong vaccination rates and the Biden-Harris administration's control of the virus, we'll definitely focus on trying to get many consumers out to our small businesses to shop during this time, you know, regardless and especially knowing the challenges they've been through over the past year and how important it is to spend our dollars to get them through the next year so our beloved small businesses can stay intact.

SIMON: Isabella Casillas Guzman, administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, thanks so much for being with us. And good holiday to you.

GUZMAN: Thank you. Happy holidays to everyone.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.