A cold, rainy day didn’t stop many local residents from visiting uptown Martinsville on Small Business Saturday.

While steady rain from morning until about 2 p.m., coupled with temperatures just a few degrees above freezing, likely kept many people home, area restaurant owners said they still had plenty of customers walk through their doors on Saturday.

To support Small Business Saturday, the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corporation (EDC) created the “Dine Small MHC” campaign, giving away about 100 vouchers for $10 each to be used at participating restaurants. The vouchers were only good Saturday and were available on a first-come, first-served basis at the MHC Visitor’s Center. The EDC is going to reimburse the restaurants for the vouchers, and the restaurant that receives the most vouchers will get a bonus.

Janet Ashby, manager and executive chef at Kafenio Mediterranean Cuisine at 10 E. Church Street, said that “despite the gloomy weather,” a number of people came in and purchased meals with their EDC vouchers.

Ashby said that she always tries to support small businesses, and she thought the voucher idea was a winner.

“I think people need to be more aware of the smaller establishments that there are in and around town, and I thought that was a brilliant way to market it,” she said.

Just downstairs from Kafenio at Hugo’s Restaurant and Sports Bar, a crowd had gathered, most with their eyes glued to the college football game on the restaurant’s banks of big-screen TVs. Hugo’s owner and manager Aman Sarwary said people were waiting outside when the doors opened. They came to watch football, and the EDC vouchers helped fill out the restaurant even more.

When people shop local, Sarwary said, the money stays in town and supports local residents.

Laurence Vanderwoods, manager at Shindig Uptown Bistro at 37 East Main Street, echoed Sarwary’s comments.

“More money is kept in town when you support small businesses,” Vanderwoods said. “Your money’s not being sent to a corporation that’s located in another state or another area of Virginia.”

According to national averages, he said, 80 percent of all money spent at small businesses stays in the area where it’s spent.

“It should be a big drive for people to want to shop local and spend local,” he said. “It’s something I wish we did more often. It shouldn’t be just one Saturday per year.”

New restaurant Free Play Café, at 43 E. Church Street, opened its doors for the first time Friday afternoon. Still, owner Mike Haley said the business hit the ground running and a steady stream of customers had been coming in all day.

Haley also owns neighboring business Uptown Pinball, and Free Play Café lets customers play pinball and arcade games while they’re at the restaurant. Shortly after noon, a group came in for a meal, their children enjoying the arcade games while the adults talked at a nearby table.

Haley said that he was happy to be a part of the EDC’s Dine Small MHC campaign, and he appreciated the fact that it gave him a deadline for opening day.

“I like a deadline,” he said. “Put me on a deadline, I’ll do the job.”

Roberto Sanchez, owner of Rania’s Restaurant, Bar and Grill at 147 E. Main Street, said a number of customers had filtered through despite the lousy weather, and a large group was having a function in one of the restaurant’s private rooms.

In comparison to Free Play Café, Kafenio and Shindig – which have all been open for fewer than six months – Rania’s is the elder statesman of the group, having opened its doors in 2001.

Uptown Martinsville is a lot different than it was 17 years ago, Sanchez said, and people who haven’t visited uptown recently should come see what it has to offer.

“It’s improved,” he said, “and it’s getting better.”

Ben R. Williams reports for the Martinsville Bulletin. He can be reached at benjamin.williams@martinsvillebulletin.com

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