||Main Street Offers Mall Alternative
In Ridgefield, Conn., Main Street is lined with independent boutiques and offers shoppers the quintessential "anti-mall" experience: a relaxing ambiance, unique gift items and attentive customer service.
But being far from the mall isn't always a plus during the holiday shopping season, when consumers flock to big-box stores offering deep discounts -- sales that small merchants often can't match.
Ridgefield's stores were relatively quiet for much of the morning and afternoon on the Friday after Thanksgiving, as most shoppers took advantage of the "Black Friday" door-buster deals and over-the-top promotions at the mall, some eight miles away, speculates Bill Craig, owner of Craig's Fine Jewelry.
But the turnout picked up somewhat later in the evening and throughout the weekend. Books on the Common, a small bookstore, had extended hours -- until 8 p.m. -- to coincide with Ridgefield's annual Christmas tree lighting, which brought more foot traffic. "The store was really crowded from 1 p.m. until close," says store co-owner Ellen Burns, who estimates that hundreds turned up for the event. "Sales were up 30% this Friday over 2009."
Books on the Common promised to donate 15% of each sale over the weekend to the town's public library if the customer showed their library card. Caleb Wattley, who shopped at the store on Friday, says the promotion was more attractive to him than the sales at some of the larger, chain book stores.
Ann Lathrop of the Toy Chest, another business in Ridgefield, says the Black Friday weekend isn't usually bustling for smaller shops, as the rush typically comes during the two weeks leading up to Christmas.
But Ms. Lathrop, who has experienced a sales slump the past two years, says her store was quite busy Friday, Saturday and Sunday. She attributes part of the boost to American Express's first "Small Business Saturday" promotion, which encouraged holiday shoppers to visit and purchase from local stores. "A few, maybe nine or 10, people came in for the first time and told us it was because of that," says Ms. Lathrop.
Some business owners in other parts of the country also saw a slight uptick.
In Chattanooga, Tenn., owner Ann Craft of Kidz Planet decided to open for Black Friday -- the first time since she launched in 2001 -- because demand for the store's second-hand items has picked up the last few holiday seasons. She pulled in $125,000 in sales last year, a 20% jump, and had hoped this weekend's sales would boost profits even more. "I saw a little more traffic than an average day, so I will do it again" next year, says Ms. Craft.
In Glenview, Ill., Jon Abt, co-president of Abt Inc., a midsize, family-run electronics store, was excited by the "crazy and fun" traffic in his store.
Mr. Abt, a single-location retailer, tries to compete with large electronics stores by providing steep discounts -- like a 60-inch 3-D television set for $698. Mr. Abt called Friday "super, super busy" even though the store didn't open at 5 a.m. and the weather was bitterly cold.
Back in Ridgefield, the town's business owners are also counting on another community event, next weekend's Downtown Ridgefield Holiday Stroll, complete with horse-drawn buggies, ice sculpting and carolers, to kick-start holiday sales.
Mr. Craig, the jewelry store owner, sits on the committee that organizes the Holiday Stroll, and says it's better to have a special weekend for the small businesses, separate from the Black Friday weekend.
Pam Fitzpatrick, owner of the Candlelight Shoppe, agrees. Her business, which sells lingerie and sleepwear, will be open during the festivities. "People are still shopping and spending, but they are being selective," she says. "For them, it's not about quantity but about the quality, and for me, it's all about the service."
(Source: The Wall Street Journal, 11/29/10)
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