There is a better way to shop for the holidays than scrolling through web pages or braving crowds at the mall. You can cycle, walk or even drive (parking in the village is free during the holiday season) to Orange Avenue where there are dozens of shops offering an array of goods and services.
Last week two events were held to remind everyone of the joys of shopping on the island: Small Business Saturday and the annual Christmas Parade and local merchants’ Open House.
The Christmas Parade and Open House has been a tradition for 40 years. Small Business Saturday is an initiative launched by American Express five years ago to encourage people to patronize local, independent merchants during the holiday season.
This year the credit card company joined forces with MainStreet organizations across the country to actively promote. In Coronado the organization distributed 13 thousand passports to residents and visitors at shops, hotels, the Visitor Center and the Eagle-Journal. It also provided street entertainers – a balloon twister, a guitarist and a saxophone player — to add to the festivities.
The organization’s efforts turned what had been a ho-hum event into a festival atmosphere that brought many people downtown to shop for the first time.
Participating shops and restaurants stamped passports when people stopped in, purchases weren’t required. Completed passports were entered into a drawing for Coronado Currency. The currency is a kind of gift card that can only be spent in participating Coronado shops. One hundred and thirty-seven people turned in completed passports for a chance to win $250, $100 or $50 gift cards, according to Rita Sarich, MainStreet’s executive director.
The chance to win gift certificates brought many into shops they had never noticed before. Patti Nordengreen, co-owner of Taste of Oils, heard more than one customer remark that they had passed by the shop many times, but had never stopped in to see what products were available.
Once in the door, many people found something to buy. The Attic, Wine A Bit, Taste of Oils, Charisma, and Wag ‘n Tails all reported increased sales over a typical Saturday, or even last year’s Small Business Saturday.
“We made $800 more than we usually do,” said Melanie Parks, Wag ‘n Tails owner.
Bay Books also saw an increase in business. “There was a pretty steady flow and we did pretty well over all,” said the store’s owner, Angelica Ayala Muller.
Others were less enthusiastic. Linda Austin, who owns Austin’s Gallery, an artist cooperative, said only four people came in to have their passport stamped. Holland’s Bicycles and Bay Books only saw a slight uptick in sales.
This was not the first time local merchants used the season to lure shoppers. Long before Small Business Saturday came to Coronado, local merchants have been holding Christmas Open Houses to coincide with the Christmas Parade. Both are sponsored by the Coronado Chamber of Commerce.
While waiting for Santa to ride down Orange Avenue on a fire truck and conclude the parade by lighting the big Christmas tree at Rotary Plaza, people visited local business where there were noshes, libations and more than a few “Open House” bargains. The Front Porch, for example, offered a 20% discount on their home items and bakeware. Everything at Blue Jeans and Bikinis was 20% off.
Over the years no one at the Chamber has specifically surveyed the shops and restaurants to see how the annual event affects business. It seems logical though that the downtown businesses benefit.
“We’ve been doing this event for a long time and every year stores stay open until 9pm,” said Chamber spokesperson Lizzie Boyer.
Merchants did report more browsers than shoppers at the Open House than at Small Business Saturday. “People are looking around and saying they’ll come by to shop later,” commented Katti Ruth of Earth, Wind and Sea. “Saturday there were a lot more sales.”
Some merchants weren’t all that concerned about sales. “Tonight is for fun,” said Zarina Young, owner of Holland’s Bicycles.
Sarich points out that while it’s fun to shop during special events, like the Open House and Small Business Saturday, there are plenty of reasons shop locally all year long. Mom and Pop shops offer unique gifts, personalized service and convenience. Blue Jeans and Bikinis, for example, sells exclusive jewelry designed by Liz Campbell, a long-time Coronado resident.
Wag ‘n Tails not only sells flea medication for less than Petco, but offers it in individual tubes for customers who cannot afford to buy the full box.
Small shops aren’t necessarily more expensive than big box stores. “We keep our prices competitive,” Parks said. Most also offer discounts to residents on their merchandise.
Shopping in your own backyard builds stronger, more vibrant communities. Forty-eight percent of each purchase made at a local independent merchant is recirculated locally compared to less than 14% of purchases made at chain stores, according to the American Business Alliance.
“There’s nothing wrong with chains, but Mom and Pop stores give back to the community in ways that chains never do,” said Sarich. “Places like Leroy’s and Charisma support youth soccer and cheerleaders. Starbucks doesn’t. Walgreens doesn’t.”