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FARMINGTON — Local residents Karla Montoya and Rebecca Brandt were sorting through custom lapel pins today at the Three Rivers Art Center, one of the downtown retailers participating in Small Business Saturday.

Small Business Saturday is a national event that encourages consumers to shop and support locally owned businesses. The annual event is held on the Saturday after Thanksgiving each year and was launched by American Express in 2010.

The women were starting their downtown shopping trip today by visiting the nonprofit artist cooperative gallery on West Main Street. Brandt, of Farmington, was looking for items to send as Christmas gifts and remembered her grandmother had a similar business that operated on consignment.

"Coming down here, I think about that because you find different things," she said. "Things that are not, you know, you're not going to find anywhere else."

Like Brandt, Montoya, of Shiprock, was shopping for one-of-a-kind items but she also remembered the days when downtown offered stores like Woolworth's and was always busy with retail activity.

"I always come down to the small businesses," Montoya said. "We do our shopping, find new things. We just wish there were more businesses downtown."

Sue Johnson is one of the artists associated with the nonprofit gallery.

In the days leading up to Small Business Saturday, Johnson said she saw and heard advertisements for the event.

"We were just hoping that we'd have a lot of people, and a lot of people that have come in hadn't ever been in before and didn't know we were here," Johnson said.

At Brown's Shoe Fit Co., Fruitland resident Jennifer Kaskalla was helping her mother-in-law, Laura Lee Lineberry, find a new pair of shoes.

Kaskalla said she shops locally throughout the year and likes the downtown shoe store because of the customer service and one-to-one connection.

"Most of the time, I don't shop where people don't know my name. That personal connection is important to me," she said.

Farmington residents BJ and Maria Gutierrez were also shopping at the store.

The couple said they live downtown and shop in the neighborhood because their purchases help boost the local economy.

"We try to not to go outside of four-, five-block radius," Maria said. "It’s hard sometimes, but every time we go to Walmart, a little part of us dies inside.”

For BJ, the experience of shopping at major retailers does not carry a sense of community.

"It is important to keep it local," he said.

Maria added, "We have something down here in downtown Farmington that can't be replicated, and that's what we love it for."

A number of stores and restaurants participating in Small Business Saturday displayed their participation with banners and posters and were staying open late to participate in the holiday art walk.

Mr. Tank's Tattoos showed its participation by placing a Small Business Saturday door mat at its main entrance.

Shop manager and body piercer Orlando Gonzales said customer turnout was steady, and the store was participating in the event because it is important to keep business local.

"We're trying to be part of the community, give back to the community," Gonzales said.

Tattoo artist Greg Knuppel had completed a tattoo and was preparing his station to service another customer.

"I think people should support small business a lot more than they do," Knuppel said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.

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