NEW JERSEY - The Saturday after Thanksgiving has come to be known as Small Business Saturday in case anyone missed the numerous commercials that have been hitting the airwaves in between all the Black Friday sales pitches since before Halloween. It's the day when shoppers are encouraged to forgo the mall and all the big department store chains like Target and Walmart to shop small at local downtown mom and pop stores.
The trend started in 2010 and was inspired by an American Express campaign that gave shoppers incentives when they used their American Express credit card on Small Business Saturday. Last year, more than 80 million people checked out Main Street USA's across the nation to do some holiday shopping.
New Jersey has some pretty amazing downtowns that are ideal for gift buying. Many offer quaint thoroughfares that are stocked with specialty stores, great restaurants as well as picturesques backdrops with an old-fashioned holiday feel. Here are a few of the Garden State's best downtowns to check out on November 28 for Small Business Saturday as well as throughout the holiday season and beyond.
- Montclair, the 2015 Great American Main Street Award winner, is known for it's bustling business community, restaurant attractions, arts and music culture. Although all of the small businesses are top-of-the-line favorites for many, Ruthie's BARB-BQ stood out this year and was voted as a 2015 small business favorite.
- Princeton is one of New Jersey's oldest cities and sports a really great downtown that is right across the street from Princeton University. Palmer Square offers specialty shops like Kitchen Kapers and Jazams. Jazams is a unique store that sells toys, music and books for kids. Nassau Street is also full of fun places to find off-the-beaten path gifts that won't end up in the ugly sweater pile. There is metered street parking and pay-to-park lots available.
- Red Bank is fast becoming one of New Jersey's hot spots. The downtown is easily assessible by New Jersey Transit and has shops, eateries and the Count Basie Theatre. Red Bank is a shoppers paradise and a delightful place to explore. There is street and pay-to-park options available. Parking can be challenging, which makes the train sound even better.
- Asbury Park used to be one of New Jersey's places to avoid. Now, it is one of the top don't-miss places. Asbury Park's Crookman Avenus is home to numerous quirky shops that will make holiday shopping a joy again. The Shoppes at the Arcade is full of stores that sell all retro-inspired stuff from clothes to video games to vintage records. Hot Sand is a glassware store that sells handmade items that make beautiful one-of-a-kind gifts. Shoppers can even blow their own glass. There is plenty of metered parking on the street, but the train is an option here as well. Many top notch restaurants to pick from and the boardwalk and beach is a short walk away.
- Right next to Asbury Park is the Victorian charmer, Ocean Grove. Main Avenue in Ocean Grove is home to quaint stores like April Cornell that are delighful to explore. The fabulous houses and ocean views are an added bonus.
- Lambertville sits right on the shores of the Delaware River and smack across the bridge from New Hope, Pennsylvania. Both towns have a number of antique and specialty shops along with restaurants. Street and municipal parking is available.
- Spring Lake is another Jersey Shore Victorian gem. Walk down Third Avenue and sample shops devoted to chocolate, Irish gifts, dance and more. Afterwards, enjoy a bite to eat and a stroll along the boardwalk or around its namesake lake.
In reality, the list of fabulous Garden State downtowns would be too lengthy to publish here. These are just a few highlights. All of the aforementioned downtowns pull out all the stops for the holidays and are the perfect places to spend Small Business Saturday or any Saturday for that matter. There is plenty of holiday atmosphere to enjoy and of course, gifts to buy.