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Upbeat season for downtown

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For those turned off by the endless lines and swarming hoards of Black Friday shoppers at big box stores and malls, Yellow Springs may be a less hectic and more pleasant alternative. In November, the town was flooded with holiday shoppers the day after Thanksgiving — a day now christened “Yellow Friday.” It was the start to a strong holiday season for some downtown merchants and, for many, the cap to an improved sales year. For other retailers, holiday sales helped them stay afloat amidst a continuing national recession.

“No one said they had a bad holiday season,” said Chamber of Commerce director Karen Wintrow of a recent merchants’ meeting. “Everyone was upbeat.”

After dismal sales figures in 2010, many businesses were pleased by an uptick in foot traffic and revenue in 2011. Kismet had increased sales and visitors as more tourists were drawn to village events, according to manager Chiai Okuda. Sales have continued to rise over the last six years at the clothing retailer, known for its one-of-a-kind clothes, shoes and accessories.

“People don’t have to worry about bumping into someone wearing the same thing,” Okuda said of the unique wares. Even with more tourists, Kismet still relies on a loyal local base that provides about 50 percent of its business.

Glen Garden Gifts & Flowers also depends upon the business of current and former villagers, many of whom come for their Yellow Springs merchandise, according to employee Daria Mabra. While it remains difficult for the shop to compete with the flower prices offered at larger retailers like Kroger, last year it saw an increase in sales over 2010 and Yellow Friday was an especially busy day at the store.

“We maintained our loyal customers — thank God,” Mabra said of 2011. Big sellers were the Yellow Springs T-shirts, postcards and other merchandise and Mabra said she’s surprised more businesses aren’t capitalizing on the high demand for anything “Yellow Springs.”

Sam & Eddies Open Books’ new Yellow Springs bumper stickers have been flying off the shelves, along with other local products like Axel Bahnsen’s photography book, Poor Will’s Almanac and Kathy Moulton’s book, My Town. Especially popular is a bumper sticker conceived and printed by Hardy Ballantine — “Yellow Springs, Ohio: 1.9 square miles surrounded by reality.”

Sales in 2011 at Sam & Eddies were on par with 2010 as its mix of tourists and repeat customers helped keep the business open.

“Yellow Springs is a beloved community and a place to visit,” owner Sam Eckenrode said of tourists, adding that repeat customers are the “bread and butter” of the business that sells cards, books and gifts.

Chen’s Asian Bistro has seen its local base shrink and has come to count on those from around the Dayton area for about 60 percent of its business, said owner Jenny Chen. Though catering has been a boon to the Chinese restaurant in 2011, business was down overall.

Meanwhile, the local community has been supportive of Starflower Natural Foods, which had its best year in 2011 over its three years in business, said owner Marnie Newmann. Newmann attributes at least some increase to the desire for alternative healthcare options.

But Downing’s Do It Best Hardware, almost completely reliant on its local base, saw lower sales in 2011 compared to 2010, said Kathy Downing. Holiday sales and tourist traffic don’t have much affect on the business, she said, even though sales of LED Christmas lights were strong this year.

Weather can also have a big impact on sales. With a warm winter, sales of construction materials should have been higher than they were, Downing said. So now she’s hoping for some snow and ice to sell the salt and shovels that will give the store a good start to 2012.

“For 2012, we have to be optimistic,” Downing said.

Weather can be a big driver of retail performance, according to Wintrow at the Chamber. As long as the sun is shining, people seem to be shopping, and Yellow Friday sales were strong in part because it was a “gorgeous day,” Wintrow said.

Events also help bring in new and returning visitors who will patronize shops, and this year, between Street Fairs, Third Friday Flings, Cirque Carnival, Cyclops Fest and Yelloween, the town drew thousands with its “unique vibe,” Wintrow said.

Retailers can benefit from throwing their own events as well. Toxic Beauty Records & Music Gallery drew vinyl enthusiasts from all over the area on National Record Store Day in April. For more than three hours the line outside the business extended past Ye Olde Trail Tavern & Restaurant and 185 new releases were sold out that day, according to owner Josh Castleberry.

Last year was Toxic Beauty’s best in its four years in business and the holiday season was the busiest it’s ever been, Castleberry said. Though he attributes part of his success to the soaring vinyl trend, Castleberry’s selection of hip, indie and alternative albums and classic represses, along with carefully-honed used records, keep him competitive with other record shops.

Another merchant that caters to a younger demographic, Super-Fly Comics & Games, also keeps its competitive edge by keeping a unique and varied stock.

“We thrive on variety because there’s a lot of competition,” said Tony Barry. Overall, 2011 was an “awful” year for Super-Fly, with the exception of the holiday season, Barry said. Post-holiday sales were also strong as books, toys, T-shirts, graphic novels and more flew off the shelf. Super-Fly is a business that relies more heavily on tourists, since it caters to a niche market.

“We need more foot traffic because the local populace in Yellow Springs is smaller,” compared to other comic book stores who are sited in larger towns, Barry said. Even though the year was “touch and go” Barry is thrilled to have made it through his first year as the business’ sole owner and plans to put on more events next year. Optimism abounds.

“We’re gonna win,” said Super-Fly employee Jared Whittaker of 2012.

The Village Greenery is also looking forward to a strong 2012, as long as the growth trend during the last half of 2011 continues, said employee Erin Currier. Once the plant business increased its hours and began to offer more lower-priced items, sales picked up. Air plants, which cost as little as $1.50, were impulse buys for many customers and less intimidating because soil isn’t required, Currier said. At the close of the books, sales in 2011 were on par with 2010.

“We finished up strong,” Currier said. “We would have surpassed 2010 if we started out the year like this.”

Bonadies Glasstudio also saw customers go for lower-priced stock, such as ornaments. Most sales were under $70, according to owner Valerie Spinning, as shoppers went increasingly for her jewelry over her blown glass. Overall, Bonadie’s finished 2011 ahead of 2010, in part due to the swarm of shoppers during the final weeks of the holiday season.

Wintrow said that for years the Chamber didn’t think Yellow Springs could compete with the mall and large retailers on Black Friday but was pleasantly surprised by the success of its first year promoting the village with the slogan, “Shop Small. Buy Big. Give Unique.”

Another new effort was a holiday card, which tallied sales at local shops in exchange for a raffle prize. Overall, $42,050 was spent at local merchants among the 347 people who participated.

It’s clear that more and more new visitors came to town in 2011, as evidenced by those who visited the Chamber office and attended events, Wintrow said. Attracting new people to town and informing them of all Yellow Springs has to offer is the Chamber’s role. After that, it’s up to the businesses to get them into their shops and opening their wallets.

Ohio Magazine named Yellow Springs Street Fair as the “Best Place for People Watching” in 2012.

“One could reasonably argue that Yellow Springs is the best place for meeting and observing cool, creative folks about any day of the week,” said the article in Ohio Magazine.

The award was a testament to the variety of people the village attracts, Wintrow said. And as long as tourists shop as much as they hang out here, 2012 could be a good year for downtown merchants.


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