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Holidays OK for most businesses

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The recent holiday season was better than the one before for many downtown merchants, and other stores had sales either comparable or slightly down from last year, according to recent interviews with a dozen owners. Most merchants felt satisfied with their sales, given the state of the national economy. However, they had to work hard and be smart to weather the holidays in a recession, and several linked their stability to their own adjusted business practices.

In one respect, the recession may not hit Yellow Springs businesses as hard as national chains, because many shoppers are making a point of supporting small, independent businesses, such as those in the village.

“People are thinking about it more,” said Mary Kay Smith, co-owner of The Winds, regarding her customers’ spending priorities for their limited dollars. “A lot of folks want to spend their money with an independent business.”

The Winds had a more profitable holiday season than that of 2008, when the restaurant suffered from the cancellation of many business holiday parties. This year, most of those businesses re-instated their holiday celebrations, although the events were less lavish, with employees footing some of their own costs.

Individual customers also have continued eating out, although they are clearly more frugal, according to Smith.

“Our customers were still coming out, but they have adjusted their budgets. They might be buying a glass of wine now rather than a bottle,” she said.

The Winds had customers from some new areas this holiday season, including Richmond, Ind., just across the state line, along with regulars from Columbus, Cincinnati and Dayton. More and more, Smith said, she sees people coming to town for overnight visits or daylong shopping expeditions. Some come for holistic health practices, such as massages or a yoga workshop, and then spend the day.

“It benefits everyone” when Yellow Springs becomes a destination, Smith said.

An increase in out-of-town customers was also apparent to Sunrise Café owner and chef Brian Rainey, who noticed “lots of people coming here for the first time who seemed happy with their experience.”

The holidays were good for the Sunrise, which saw an approximate 20 percent increase in sales compared to the previous year, according to Rainey, who said that sales the year before were “dismal.”

“It’s uplifting to me that things are getting back to normal,” Rainey said.

Sherryl Kostic of “would you could you” In A Frame was also satisfied with her holiday sales.

“I was busy on the framing end and busy on the selling end,” Kostic said.

To try to adapt to changing economic times, “I thought differently this year,” said Kostic, who stocked her store with less expensive items than in the past. Her strategy worked, and her less costly items sold well, she said, stating that in general the store “held its own” in this holiday season.

The potters at Yellow Springs Pottery also consciously stocked their shelves with less expensive choices, such as mugs and bowls, rather than big-ticket items, according to co-operative co-founder Evelyn LaMers. While sales were down a small amount this year, the group also kept expenses down, and overall, “We all felt pretty good,” about the store’s holiday sales, she said.

Valerie Huffman, owner of Bonadies, has had to make major adjustments in her store inventory, since the store specializes in fairly expensive stained-glass pieces. More and more in this difficult economy, according to Huffman, she is stocking jewelry in the store, and that lower-priced item sold much better over the holidays than stained glass.

Keeping costs down, partly by getting better deals from suppliers, was one way that Priscilla Moore of Mr. Fub’s Party enabled her store to capture more sales this holiday season than last. However, there were two ways she refused to cut back: cutting employee hours and decreasing advertising. Rather than cutting marketing dollars, Moore feels strongly that even in — and perhaps especially in — hard times, “You have to keep your name out there.”

Like other retailers, Moore stocked more low-cost items this year and fewer big-ticket products, and found that was a successful strategy.

The holidays held good news for Marcia Wallgren of Ohio Silver, whose store enjoyed a 7 percent increase in sales during the holiday season over last year, when she had suffered a significant drop. Still, she was very pleased with the results.

“We worked hard for it,” Wallgren said.

The jewelry business is facing two challenges, according to Wallgren: the recession and fluctuations in the price of silver and gold. Because silver has become more expensive, some jewelers are using more colorful stones and designs, a trend that Wallgren finds promising. She’s also cut costs by doing some of her own importing, bringing in handmade items from Thailand.

Like Moore, Wallgren felt committed to weathering this economic downturn without cutting staff or reducing hours, and so far she hasn’t had to do so. Still, she said, the last few years have been among the most difficult of her store’s three decades.

“I’ve been through recessions before, but this is more challenging,” she said.

Two new stores in town did business that pleased their owners. The three women who began Urban Handmade last summer didn’t know what to expect over the holidays but they were definitely pleased, according to DJ Galvin. The store features handmade and original items, and shoppers seemed interested in everything, whether jewelry, apparel or gift items, Galvin said, stating that the one common theme she heard from her customers was a preference for originality.

“People are staying away from the malls,” she said. “They want unique items.”

Unlike other store owners, Galvin said that all of her store’s merchandise sold well, from the least to the most expensive.

“Things we didn’t sell out all year because they were more expensive, sold out at Christmas,” she said.

In its second year, Asanda Imports held its own over the holiday season, according to Molly Lunde. Business was up from last year, when the store had only recently opened.

“We were definitely happy about it,” Lunde said of herself and partner Lee Kibblewhite. The two import a wide variety of items, and most of their goods are relatively inexpensive, although they do have a $2,500 bed for sale.

Most Asanda customers are from out of town, and many this holiday season came from Columbus.

“They love it in Yellow Springs,” Lunde said.

As a new business owner, Lunde knows she and Kibblewhite faced a huge challenge when they opened their store in December 2008, the deepest part of the recession. Having weathered a tough year, they are feeling hopeful.

“If this trend continues, we feel we can survive in this business,” she said.

But a longtime downtown store manager described the holiday season in darker tones.

The 2009 holiday season was “lackluster,” said Josie Inslee, manager of Kismet. “We didn’t see the numbers coming into Yellow Springs. I didn’t see busy streets.”

Having been downtown for more than a decade in her current store and at her previous job at Pangaea, Inslee describes downtown businesses as struggling to climb out of a decline that began in 2002. Like last holiday season, Inslee saw her customers not wanting to part with their cash.

“People aren’t spending. They’re being very careful,” she said.

The retail business is struggling overall, according to Inslee, whose daughter, who works at a mall retail store, reports anemic sales at the mall as well.

“It’s just a matter of staying with it,” said Inslee, who said that Kismet’s owners, who live in Cincinnati, have no intention of closing up shop. “We have to keep optimistic. We hope to have a better year.”

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