Small Business Saturday – the “Black Friday” for small businesses – started the holiday season off strong this year, according to early sales data.

Consumers spent $5.7 billion during the national “shop local” campaign held on Saturday, up 3.6% from the $5.5 billion that was spent last year, according to American Express, which founded the event four years ago.

“It’s actually slightly better than what we found in the big retail space,” says Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst with consumer research firm NPD.

“In big retail we saw about a 2.5% increase as being reported on what happened over the holiday weekend, so small business numbers are looking better,” says Cohen. However, big stores have the edge in terms of overall numbers: Shopping analysis firm ShopperTrak reports consumers spent an estimate of $12.3 billion on Thanksgiving and Black Friday – more than double the small stores’ numbers.

But that isn’t raining on Main Street’s parade, according to American Express OPEN’s Scott Krugman.

“In this type of environment … with a cautious consumer, any time you see an increase, you’re very satisfied,” says Krugman. According to American Express, Small Business Saturday saw more widespread adoption this year; over 1,500 communities held shopping events in 50 states, up from 50 communities last year. Consumer awareness of the day also grew 4% this year, to 71% of Americans, according to the research.

Small business organizations and participating stores say the day was a win-win.

“We are very pleased that so many Americans sought to give back by shopping small this Small Business Saturday. We hope that support of small firms, retailers, restaurants and other independent businesses continues throughout the holiday season and all year round. Continued support of this vital sector is one important way to ensure our economy fully recovers and a healthy private sector is restored,” said NFIB president Dan Danner.

Pure Detroit, a group of apparel stores and cafes profiled by FOXBusiness.com in November for its innovative Small Business Saturday marketing strategy, says the day delivered heavy foot traffic. Pure Detroit’s “Small Business Passport,” created in advance of Saturday’s event, gave discounts to shoppers who visited the 18 participating retailers in the Detroit area.

“It was amazing … It was above and beyond our biggest sales day for us,” says Pure Detroit cultural director Ryan Hooper. Hooper says the company had printed 1,000 passports, all of which are now in circulation.

“We got a lot of solid feedback – people coming in with those passports, and businesses saying that people they had never seen before were spending money in their shops. It was a very effective tool,” says Hooper, adding the company will be extending the promotion until the end of January thanks to its success.

Krugman says that is what it’s all about.

“Small business owners in the last couple of years have taken ownership of the day, by planning events, discounts and promotions to leverage this promotional window to drive traffic into stores,” says Krugman.

And some are already looking ahead to 2014.

“We’ll absolutely be participating next year … It was great to be a part of it,” says Hooper.

Follow Gabrielle Karol on Twitter @GabrielleKarol