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Holiday helps Austin Street

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Photo gallery

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Michael Jaye, manager of NY Diamond Boutique, heads inside the Austin Street store after putting up the banner. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Caroline Black works as the manager of Bell Family Jewelers. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Daniel Bentz, owner of the Wine and Spirit Company of Forest Hills, called Small Business Saturday a great idea. Photo by Christina Santucci
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A variety of jewelry is for sale at NY Diamond Boutique. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Carlos Hernandez, a merchant at Via Veneto Fashions, said Small Business Saturday specials included three shirts for $100. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Diana Someck, the owner of Yvette Lingerie in Bayside, holds her pup Rusty as Small Business Saturday wraps up. She said her store is more of a specialty shop and attracts customers that way. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Charlie Abikaram, who has owned Douglaston Wine and Liquors for more than 20 years, said he hoped sales would pick up during the rest of the holiday season. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Harry Rutgers owns Bell Family Jewelers in Bayside. Photo by Christina Santucci

Small business owners in Queens were divided over whether Small Business Saturday — the shopping holiday that is the independent shop owner’s answer to the big box-dominated Black Friday — was helpful for sales.

“I think [Small Business Saturday] is a great idea,” said Daniel Bentz, owner of the Wine and Spirit Co. of Forest Hills, at 72-09 Austin St. But he tempered that by adding, “Is it gonna help? Who knows? Everything helps.”

The Saturday after Thanksgiving event is held during what is often the busiest shopping weekend of the year. American Express created the concept in 2010 to help boost independent shops around the country, and the company offers rebates to its members who make purchases at small businesses. Many shop owners also boast special sales on the day to help bring in customers.

A survey released by the National Federation of Independent Business and American Express Monday found that national consumer awareness of Small Business Saturday is growing and American Express card member transactions were 21 percent higher this year compared to last year.

Some small business merchants along Austin Street in Forest Hills were thrilled with the day’s sales.

“We were very happy,” said Michael Jaye, manager of NY Diamond Boutique.

He said the jewelry store had been running a number of sales through the weekend, including offering customers a gift card for $100.

“It turned out to be the best thing we’ve ever done,” he said, saying that sales this year were up from last year.

Carlos Hernandez, a merchant at Via Veneto Fashions, also said Small Business Saturday was going well for his store, with stronger sales and lots of foot traffic.

He said the shopping holiday helps the business compete against the nearby shopping malls, which can have a negative impact on the shop’s sales.

“The mall is the big competition around here,” he said, referring to Queens Center, Queens Place and Rego Center.

But despite successes, Small Business Saturday did not meet everyone’s expectations.

Charlie Abikaram, who has owned Douglaston Wine and Liquors, at 44-41 Douglaston Pkwy., for more than 20 years, said he had been hoping business would be better Saturday.

“I thought American Express cardholders, they were going to come out,” he said at about 5:30 p.m.

Three customers in total had paid with their American Express card that day, he said.

He said he had signed up online in hopes that the credit card company would visit his store and dole out $25 gift cards.

Abikaram said business had been about the same in the same time period as last year and he was hoping it would improve as the holidays neared.

“Thanksgiving was OK, not great, but acceptable,” he said.

And Harry Rutgers, owner of Bell Family Jewelers, at 40-21 Bell Blvd. in Bayside, said there still needed to be more education about the shopping holiday in order to bring in customers.

“Today was OK, but I don’t think that enough people understood what [Small Business Saturday] meant,” he said. “We’re busy, but it could have been a lot busier.”

Reach reporter Karen Frantz by e-mail at kfrantz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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