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Local business owners reflect on holiday shopping surge

Foot traffic picks up for Small Business Saturday, but Black Friday sales slow for local shops


by: SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: ROBIN JOHNSON - Suzie Dahl, co-owner of Scappoose wine shop Avenue 30, said that aside from wine, her big holiday sellers have been handbags and accessories. Dahl says shes also had success selling hand-made tables and other furnishings. Bargain-hungry customers across the country stormed stores late last week as the holiday shopping period kicked off.

Columbia County, home to major retailers like Wal-Mart and Fred Meyer, was not immune to the mania generated by big sales and proximity to Christmas, the biggest gift-giving holiday of the year. But this year, a countrywide effort to allow small businesses the opportunity to take advantage of the shopping frenzy seems to have made a difference in Columbia County.

Jilly Newkirk-Owens, owner of St. Helens women’s clothing store Jilly’s Again, said she was heartened to see many customers on Saturday, Nov. 30 — “Small Business Saturday,” as the Saturday after Thanksgiving has been labeled by local stores across the country, in an effort to rival big-box retailers’ sales efforts on “Black Friday,” the year’s biggest day for shopping in the United States.

“What I really noticed differently is that people were really honoring Small Business Saturday,” Newkirk-Owens said. “They would tell me.”

Newkirk-Owens said this year marked the first time she did more business on the Saturday after Thanksgiving than she did on Friday.

Shannon Vaerewyck, who owns Bertucci’s cafe and gift shop in the Houlton district of St. Helens, said business for her this year was the “same as last year” overall.

“We didn’t see a significant increase, but we greatly appreciated the people who did decide to shop local,” Vaerewyck said.

Business at Bertucci’s was significantly depressed from the year before on Friday, according to Vaerewyck.

“We were 40 percent down on Friday compared to last year, so that kind of scared us a little bit,” Vaerewyck said. “We went, ‘Oh no, what’s Saturday going to be like?’ And then Saturday was not much more, but a little bit more than last year.”

Vaerewyck and Newkirk-Owens speculated that the early start to Black Friday this year, with a number of major retail outlets opening their doors and beginning holiday sales Thursday evening, cut into their business over the weekend.

“I think a lot of it has to do with the box chains are open on [Thanksgiving], and I think it’s killing us small business people,” said Vaerewyck.

“I don’t believe in being open on Thanksgiving,” said Newkirk-Owens. “That should be a day with family.”

Like Vaerewyck, Suzie Dahl, co-owner of Scappoose wine shop Avenue 30, said she had a lot of business last Saturday, but Friday was fairly slow.

“Everybody wanted to shop local on Saturday, which was nice,” she said. “I would say people coming out is wonderful, we always get repeat customers, but we saw a lot of new faces [on Saturday].”

Dahl wasn’t the only Scappoose business owner who noted success over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

“It’s been good. It’s continuing to pick up as we’re getting closer to Christmas,” said Cheri Gardner, owner of Sunsations Tanning and Boutique. “We have lots of gift options. We sell many ladies accessories and apparel. We also sell tanning gift certificates.”

This is Gardner’s first time leading her business through the holiday season, but she said the major holiday shopping weekend after Thanksgiving was a high point for the store.

“Saturday was hoppin’,” Gardner said. “Saturday was really busy, but it slowed down Sunday.”

Gardner added that Sunsations is holding a food drive Dec. 1 through Dec. 21 where customers can bring non-perishable food items to the store and save on tanning packages. Those who donate five to nine items will get $10 off a one-month tanning package. Those who donate 10 or more items will get $15 off a one-month tanning package. Donated food will go directly to the Columbia Pacific Food Bank.

This should be a banner year for shopping, according to the National Retail Federation. The federation report states retail sales in November and December are projected to increase by 3.9 percent to $602.1 billion. The projection is higher than 2012’s 3.5 percent retail sales increase. The forecast is a gain from the 10-year average holiday sales growth of 3.3 percent.