Teela Ridgeway, a third-generation Petaluma resident, said she wouldn't set foot in a shopping mall during the Christmas season.

"I support Petaluma merchants and local commerce," Ridgeway said Saturday, during a visit to iLeoni, one several locally owned shops participating in Small Business Saturday.

Small Business Saturday gives shoppers an alternative to the long, stress-filled Black Friday lines at big-box stores and shopping malls. And it offers a more personal touch than the electronic transactions of Cyber Monday.

At iLeoni, a dining and culinary essentials shop, Ridgeway ran into Carol Eber, a fellow Petaluma resident who once — or twice — completed the Alcatraz swim with her. Both Eber and Ridgeway spoke proudly of their local Sonoma County roots, which go back several generations.

"That's why I support Petaluma merchants and local commerce," said Eber, who had just purchased several holiday gifts, including a gravy separator, sauce pans and Christmas decorations.

Small Business Saturday was founded in 2010 by American Express as a way of supporting small businesses by giving them more exposure during what has become in recent years the biggest shopping weekend of the year.

American Express says that last year more than 100 million people shopped at independently-owned shops or restaurants on Small Business Saturday. As part of its promotion, American Express gives its cardholders $25 back when they shop at qualifying stores.

At Savory Spice Shop in downtown Santa Rosa, co-owner Pat Benfer said Small Business Saturday was making people more aware of the importance of small business in the community.

"They are more unique and give people more options," she said, quickly pointing out that the shop sells 100 different spices and 160 blends of spices.

Some of the spices are hard to find exotic items, such as Asafetida, which is used in Indian cuisine and Cubeb Berries, used in Morrocan food.

"We have five different kinds of cinnamon and seven different kinds of paprika," she said.

Around the corner, at Positively Fourth St., shoppers examined a wall of whimsically decorated socks and other unique items that include the works of local artists. Celtic shirts, candles and semi-precious stones are among the more popular items at this gift-giver's haven.

"The energy in here is really soothing," sat Kat Bywater, a shop employee. "Even when it gets busy, it never gets stressful."

Bywater said a lot of people came to the shop on Black Friday, a day that is more the domain of the nearby Santa Rosa Plaza.

At iLeoni, co-owner Nancy Leoni said she hopes that Small Business Saturday can really catch on and grow beyond its American Express roots.

"It makes people aware that small business needs support," she said.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com

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