TORRINGTON – Since 2010, Small Business Saturday has been a chance for shoppers to support and celebrate the small businesses in their communities and to let shop owners know their hard work is paying off.
From the newly opened Town Square Marketplace on Main Street to Torrington Office Supply just down the street to 28th Avenue Dance Studio which has been in business since 1998, Torrington runs on its small businesses. Many of them have been here for decades, families working together to keep them running.
Sisters DeAnna Mitchell and Courtney Birkley have been business partners since purchasing Wagner’s Floral seven years ago. After years spent on West 24th Street, the duo recently moved their business to Main Street inside The Town Square Marketplace.
The sisters have been looking for the chance to move to Main Street. With the store being in a more popular part of town, they said, visitors and others new to town will be able to find them with ease.
When the opportunity arose for Mitchell and Birkley to set up a storefront on Main Street, they weren’t expecting much more than a bit of space in the coolers lining the wall in The Town Square. The idea to move the entirety of Wagner’s Floral into the building came after looking at the space and discussing it with the other business owners in The Town Square, making an all-in-one stop for date night with locally sourced beef from Bear Mountain Beef, specialty liquor from Limited Edition and flowers from Wagner’s Floral. The sisters decided it would be worth the blood, sweat and tears to move the entire shop rather than constantly moving back and forth between two shops.
Mitchell and Birkley have both learned to trust the process when designing a new bouquet for a customer. When a customer comes in with an idea for a custom bouquet, it doesn’t always fit Mitchell and Birkley’s idea of a beautiful arrangement. Mitchell said the most important lesson she has learned is to not “judge a book by its cover.” More often than not, the bouquet turns out to be beautiful in a way neither of them had thought of before.
Even before the sisters bought it, Wagner’s Floral had been around for decades, along with many other small businesses in Torrington.
Leithead’s Appliance Center on Main Street has supplied the Torrington area with mattresses, refrigerators and other appliances for decades now. As a family business, they work together to keep their small business alive and to continue serving their community.
“Being a family owned business has impacted my experience very positively,” current owner Craig Leithead said. “I was able to grow up around the business to see how things have progressed and how to operate a family business.”
Craig Leithead bought the business in August 2020 from Gary and Aileen Leithead. He splits his time between a part-time teaching position at Southeast and managing Leithead’s. Gary’s father Harry first started an appliance repair business in 1976 here in Torrington. A few years later, Harry and Minnie Leithead teamed up with Gary and Aileen to buy the Sears Catalog store. Once Sears closed all its catalog stores, Gary and Aileen merged into a Western Auto Store. In 2002, Gary and Aileen decided to go independent, and the store became Leithead’s Appliance Center.
Craig Leithead says his favorite part about owning a small business in a small town like Torrington is the chance to create new job opportunities, being part of a community and he particularly enjoys the “challenge and opportunity to survive as a small business in a big business world.”
“Learn from your mistakes,” Leithead said. “Resolve problems keeping your integrity and beliefs intact and keep moving forward.”
Credit card giant American Express first introduced Small Business Saturday in 2010, encouraging consumers to do more of their holiday shopping with local businesses. Small Business Saturday takes place every year on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. The movement quickly gained momentum and support from the U.S. Senate and officials across the country.
In recent years, consumers nationwide have debated the motives and ethics of a credit card company sponsoring a day meant to support local communities. Although supporting small businesses is generally considered a good thing, American Express has gained free advertising and other perks from being a sponsor, making many people uneasy about actively engaging in Small Business Saturday.