Shop Small!

Categories:  Community    Events
Wednesday, November 27th, 2013 at 7:49 AM
Shop Small! by Leslie McAllister

You know how it goes: If you shop small, your dollars stay local. But not everyone has to be small to see the value of this.

In 2010, American Express created “Small Business Saturday,” an initiative designed to showcase and support local entrepreneurs across the United States – a shop small, rather than at the mall, if you will. And after witnessing the initial popularity of the event, the U.S. Senate voted to officially recognize the campaign in 2011 with millions of shoppers following suit, lining up at local shops and stores all across the country – even here in Erie at small businesses like the ones located at the Colony Plaza.

“We may be small, but we are big on…service, uniqueness, knowledge,” Robyn Crago tells me, over a hot beverage, in the Colony Plaza’s bustling new coffee shop Brew Ha Ha.  As head of the Small Business Association for the Shops at the Colony, Robyn helps to keep businesses at the plaza in the know.  There, you’ll find almost 30 shops, many of which are Erie’s favorites, like Yoga Erie, Rustic and Refined, A la Cart, Brasserie Dearie, AJ’s Famous Labels, Colony Pub & Grille, and of course Les Crago Jewelers, tenants since 1954.

And there’s a rich history behind the shops at the Colony, and with Robyn’s commitment to those big ideas for smaller shops, there’s potential for a bright future when it comes to shopping local in Erie.

“My dad bought the land back in 1950, and the one stipulation to rent there was you had to be a local business,” Chip Riehl, owner of the Colony Plaza, tells me of the exclusive shopping center.

“I don’t believe – in fact I am almost certain – there is nothing like this in the tri-state area,” Robyn chimes in.  “That being a specific location devoted to locally owned, family-run businesses.”

And creating and fostering a culture in which local businesses can thrive is something Robyn takes seriously – and for good reason.

“Here’s why Erieites should support local businesses: There is better service, and you are dealing with the owner so there is an expertise that exists.”

Chip agrees, “You know your customer,” he adds.  “Each item is handpicked, thus bringing a higher level of product, and of course, for our local economy and jobs.”

But it’s often that good reputation that not only attracts customers, but also businesses.

“All the shops here have such a great reputation for unique and affordable gifts, excellent customer service, and the visibility is great,” Roselle Walkiewicz, of All That Glitters, tells me over the phone.  “Not too mention who wants to fight that Peach Street traffic."

And that Peach Street jam can get messy with bumper-to-bumper traffic, from out-of-towners to locals alike drawn in by flashy ads and deals on everything under the sun. But shopping locally doesn’t mean a sacrifice in choice and options.

"The Colony is the strongest retail plaza location with the best variety,” says Chameleon’s Joanne Joyce. “Since my move [from West Erie Plaza], my volume has most definitely increased."

Reputations and locations aside, shopping local is trendy in a place that equally effects everyone: Their wallets. And there’s something good, something cool about seeing the contents of your wallet stay local. “That is why I love this idea of shopping small,” Robyn says, pointing to the upcoming “Small Business Saturday” on Nov. 30.

Set for the Saturday following Thanksgiving, American Express has again partnered with small-business owners to offer a sort of rebate.   When shoppers use their American Express cards to shop local, they will receive a $10 statement credit.  But shoppers aren’t the only ones with incentives; business owners also get to be a part of great perks.   And companies like Twitter, FedEx, and the United States Post Office are giving ad credits and shipping resources, too.

 “We have done radio promotions and hung banners in preparation for Nov. 30,” she tells me of getting the word out there to Erie shoppers.  “Having been a presence here with the jewelry store for almost 60 years, I am honored to be among a group of varied and successful businesses.”

Robyn shares the immensity of shops: “We have children’s goods, a hair salon, gift shops, an art gallery, a yoga studio, a tailor, a makeup store, a grocery store – I mean, there is so much offered here.  It really is a special place.”

And it’s all about family. Chips wife Betsy owns Rustic and Refined, his sister Cathy owns Brew Ha Ha, and Chip has his law office here.  The Shops at the Colony Plaza are Erie and shopping small is a great way to champion such a local gem.

Besides, it is, after all, the most fashionable thing you can do this holiday season.

For more information go to and visit

Leslie McAllister can be contacted at, and you can follow her on Twitter @ShopJuJu. 

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