Local business owners are gearing up for the busiest shopping season of the year by stocking shelves, planning promotions and readying to open during Small Business Saturday.

For decades, major retail chains and big-box stores have reaped the benefits of holiday shoppers on Black Friday -- the day after Thanksgiving. Online deals started to become more popular after Cyber Monday was created on the Monday following Thanksgiving weekend.

By 2010, American Express created Small Business Saturday, with the "Shop Small" motto, in an effort to help small businesses at the start of the holiday gift season.

"American Express sponsors this program, which is great because it highlights your small mom-and-pop businesses, which in turn returns money back into your own community," said April Melrose, owner of the Peach Boutique in downtown Goldsboro. "It's just a grand finale of your shopping weekend.

"Thursday and Friday really belongs to your big-box stores and then Saturday ends with your small businesses, where you're going to find your one-of-a-kind items that you're not going to find at your larger retail locations."

The Peach Boutique, a store with women's clothing, accessories and a variety of gift items, will offer a 60 percent discount for anyone who fills a canvas Shop Small bag on Saturday.

The store, at 108 S. Center St., will also have discounted prices on gift cards, including a $20 cost for a $25 card, $40 cost for a $50 card and $80 cost for a $100 card. Other deals, including doorbusters, are planned, and the store's Peach Brewtique coffee shop will offer a free hot chocolate with the purchase of a hot chocolate.

"Shop small Saturday -- that's my busiest day of the year," she said. "We've pulled out all the inventory from all seasons, and we're doing a fill-a-bag sale."

Kathy Cornelison, owner of the Carolina Pine Country Store, at 122 S. Center St., said her modern-style country shop offers a variety of items that are hard to find in the area.

The store also has a steady stream of customers, unlike the frantic pace on Black Friday at larger retail stores.

"I'm a more relaxed family friendly shop with product lines you can't find in big-box stores because I've gone out and hand picked unique product lines that aren't within 30 miles, so you're going to find unique gifts that no one else can find," she said.

Small Business Saturday also supports the local economy.

"It supports local families," Cornelison said. "It keeps our money local."

Andrew Jernigan, owner of Jernigan Furniture, at 2101 E. Ash St., is pulling out all the stops for customers during the store's busiest shopping time of the year.

"Small Business Saturday is about the community supporting itself," Jernigan said. "We want to make it so there's absolutely no reason why you can't get the best products for the best price."

The store plans to start offering weekend deals on Friday and will continue Saturday. Lay-Z-Boy furniture will be on sale, 30 percent of the store's merchandise will be at clearance prices, purchase discounts will be offered at equal the value of twice the amount of sales tax, and interest-free financing plans for up to five years will be available.

Small Business Saturday offers customers a chance to support locally owned businesses, which in turn support the community, area nonprofits and other causes.

"This community has supported us for 93 years," Jernigan said. "It's part of who we are. We give back to the community itself, and we invest in the community.

"It's the small businesses in the community that support the local causes. The thing I love about Small Business Saturday is it's an opportunity for the public to return that support."

The majority of retailers across the nation are small businesses, with 98 percent of all retail companies employing fewer than 50 people, according to the National Retail Federation.

The NRF forecasts that out of the 71 million U.S. consumers hoping to shop the Saturday after Thanksgiving, 76 percent say they will do so specifically to support Small Business Saturday. A quarter of all holiday shoppers say they plan to purchase holiday items from local and small businesses this year.

"Shopping small assures your tax dollars are staying local," said Julie Metz, Goldsboro's downtown development director. "If you spend $100 in a local small business, it is estimated that $68 of it stays here whereas larger, big-box spending keeps a mere $43 in the local economy. Plus, money spent here creates 3.5 times more wealth for us as opposed to chain stores."