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Local business— Take Yellow over Black Friday

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Despite an overall decrease in dollars spent for the second year in a row, Black Friday shopping unfolded pretty much as expected nationwide: fistfights broke out in two separate malls in Kentucky, a woman in Virginia attacked a man with the chair she was using to save her place in line and customers stampeded for TVs at a Walmart in Texas, resulting in a melee in which one shopper was caught on video trying to punch a police officer.

Yellow Springs, however, was free of any shopping-induced fisticuffs, and was in fact largely devoid of the sales bonanzas that characterize most Black Friday shopping opportunities. But while businesses in Yellow Springs don’t follow the same approach to Black Friday as mainstream retailers, the day after Thanksgiving is nonetheless an important day for area shops. Black Friday kicks off the holiday shopping season, a day and time that accounts for a very significant percentage of the year’s sales.
“I don’t think Yellow Springs is your typical Black Friday market, but it is a busy
day,” said Jane Hockensmith-Reich of Yellow Springs Pottery.

The question facing businesses is how to take advantage of the ingrained Black Friday mentality while maintaining the ethos of a community based on small businesses. What should Black Friday in Yellow Springs look like?

As it turns out, it doesn’t look much different from a busy weekend day. But that’s kind of the idea. Around three years ago, business owners and the Chamber of Commerce developed Yellow Friday, a day designed to draw patrons to local merchants and emphasize the benefits of shopping local, said Karen Wintrow, executive director of the Yellow Springs Chamber of Commerce. Coupled with other holiday-themed experiences going on in the Village — carriage rides, a pub-crawl, trees and holiday lights — the goal is to make a day out in Yellow Springs an alternative to battling (literally) bloodthirsty crowds.

Local storeowners said that they relished being able to provide an alternative to mainstream shopping. Miriam Eckenrode-Saari of Sam and Eddie’s didn’t see anyone doing anything completely over the top to try to attract business. Owners and managers of Pangaea, the Emporium, Yellow Springs Pottery and other businesses said that they do not run any special sales or deals for the weekend; at most, hours were extended an hour or two in either direction.

“It’s more like, if you want to go to some place besides the mall, here’s a nice opportunity,” Eckenrode-Saari said.

The low-key approach attracts a number of people from out of town, especially shoppers from Cincinnati and Columbus, according to Chiai Okuda, manager of Pangaea and Kismet. The traffic made for her busiest Black Friday in memory, but it was an enjoyable busyness, she said, not stressful but fun.

The Yellow Springs Chamber of Commerce also participated in Small Business Saturday, a promotion started by American Express to encourage shopping at small businesses.

But it’s difficult to assess the economic impact of Yellow Friday/Small Business Saturday, said Wintrow. Some merchants said that Friday was great but Saturday not so much; others said the opposite; some said the entire weekend was an amazing success, others said it was a bust. The nice weather on Friday and gloomy weather on Saturday also played into sales figures, said Palmer Jordan of Rita Caz Jewelry. The varied responses reflect the approach of Yellow Friday — the approach is understated enough that business is subject to the viccissitudes afflicting any random weekend.

Black Friday is so-named because the day’s sales lift retailers from being financially in the red to being comfortably in the black. It has been the busiest shopping day of the year since 2003. Local storeowners prepare in advance and rely on the weekend as a windfall. Marcia Wallgren of Ohio Silver said that the business creates its holiday displays and purchases items for the store weeks in advance. The Emporium stocks up on Christmas and Chanukah-themed beer for the season.

It’s also a good time of year for business because a lot of people are in town visiting family and end up going out on the town, said Anna Carlson of the Emporium.

“If you’re sick of being cooped up in the house or have exhausted all your topics of conversation, you can go out to the shops,” Carlson said.

According to CNN, in-store shoppers spent about $12.1 billion over Thursday and Friday nationwide this year, and the average shopper spent $299 over this past Thanksgiving weekend. Overall, however, Americans spent 10 percent less in stores this year than they did last year, according to retail researcher Shopper­Trak. (Although sales may be lower, ShopperTrak chief revenue officer Kevin Kearns said retailers at least “successfully elongated the holiday season” by dropping Black Friday ads before Halloween.)

The decrease in spending was attributed to an increase in Thursday and Friday’s online sales — $4.47 billion this year — but Okuda said it appears the online shopping trend hasn’t affected area businesses. More people may be shopping online, but people are also interested in the kinds of gifts that Yellow Springs merchants provide, she said.

“I’m grateful people are thinking this way,” Okuda said, “I’m happy people are not going to the mall or Kohl’s.”

Dark Star Books and Comics does run a Black Friday sale on comics and graphic novels with the intention of trying to get people to go there instead of the mall, said Kate Mooneyham.

“As a person, I support non-shopping alternatives to Black Friday. But as a small business owner, I support coming out to this kind of local environment with your family,” Mooneyham said. “If you’ve got to do the mall thing on Friday, go do it — and then come here on Saturday.”


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