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On Main Street, Shops Partner to Make Registers Ring

Friday, 31 Oct 2008 | 11:49 AM ET

Gas prices may have come down but with the economy in a tailspin and consumer confidence at its lowest since 1967, small shop owners are taking preventive measures in order to survive what is expected to be the worst holiday season in years.

Pat Hansen says she hasn’t yet seen a slowdown in sales at the Hand of Man (www.handofman.com), a gift shop brimming with twinkling holiday vignettes in Owego, N.Y., but said she plans to skip a January trade show in Atlanta, where she usually buys all of her inventory for the year. Instead, she plans to buy her inventory straight from catalogs and may take a quick trip to New York City.

"This year, I think we’ll be a little cautious because I really don’t know what’s going to happen next year," said Hansen, who’s owned the shop for 30 years. Her biggest concern is what will happen if the crunch starts to affect credit cards, which account for at least three-fourths of her sales.

In order to lure more shoppers downtown this holiday season, Owego will be holding two big events, the "Holiday Showcase" and "Lights on the River Fest." Hansen and other local Owego merchants (www.owegolovesshoppers.com) are also teaming up on advertising, including a joint ad campaign on a local TV station that spans 13 counties.

"They’ve never marketed themselves like that before," said Stella Reschke, director of Tioga County Tourism.

In Rhode Island, which has the highest unemployment rate in the U.S. at 8.8 percent, business owners are also pre-emptively spreading the holiday cheer.

"I’m working harder this holiday season than I have in the past five," said David Riordan, owner of Oop! (www.oopstuff.com), a shop in Providence that sells handmade crafts, furniture, jewelry and other items. We're "doing creative, different things to get people to come to the stores," he said.

In November and December, Oop will launch a slew of promotions: On Mondays and Tuesdays they’ll offer gift certificates for 15-percent off. Wednesdays are "Date Night" — If you and your significant other come in and do your Christmas shopping at Oop, they’ll give you a coupon for a $30 dinner, which includes a bottle of wine, at an area restaurant. Thursdays are charity night, where 10 percent of sales are donated to a charity such as the Nature Conservancy, Save the Bay or AIDS Care Ocean State.

Like the merchants in Owego, Oop is also doing a lot of television advertising. In addition to its own ads, Oop is getting a boost from Downcity (www.shopdowncity.com) and SoCo, the communities where its stores are located. Both communities are running their own television ads to try to draw shoppers to those areas.

"We usually have an active holiday season," Riordan said, but added, "I don’t think we’ve ever been so on top of it as we are this year."

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