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Local shoppers support, strengthen community

News Photo by Julie Riddle Shopper Tori Gentry checks out the merchandise at Classic Designs, in downtown Alpena, on Friday.

ALPENA — Spend local to support local, downtown retailers and shoppers say.

On the day after Thanksgiving — celebrated by many as a day of shopping with gusto — light crowds browsed racks and scanned shelves at downtown Alpena shops.

Shopping at local businesses, including when hunting for that special Christmas gift, keeps money in the community and bolsters the retailers that make up a vibrant part of the community, shopkeepers and their customers said on Friday.

Mother-daughter duo Kendra Carr and Nicole Carr, admiring the soft sweaters and fun doodads at the Bluebird Boutique on River Street, agreed.

“It benefits you, your neighbors, everybody,” Nicole Carr said, noting local stores’ hands-on advantage over online retailers.

News Photo by Julie Riddle Flowers and gifts appear at the Rabbit Hole, a shop in downtown Alpena, on Friday.

“There’s nothing like seeing it in person,” said her mom, Kendra Carr, a bag over her arm as the pair headed to other nearby stores.

Next door, customer Tori Gentry bought a mug and a pair of earrings at Classic Designs, an eclectic collection of flowers and trinkets with a funky, boho vibe.

New stores popping up in recent years have made downtown more appealing than ever before, and more likely to appeal to local shoppers, Gentry said.

A shopper looking for several items may default to a big box store if they think a trip downtown won’t meet their needs. The more shoppers spend at local stores, the more those stores can offer, and the more “I can come downtown and find all the things I want,” Gentry said.

No two downtown shops are the same, and that’s the way it should be, said Classic Designs owner Doreen Thomas, who lauded local business owners who support one another and recognize the value of partnership in place of competition.

News Photo by Julie Riddle Kendra Carr, left, and Nicole Carr look at racks of sweaters at the Bluebird Boutique in downtown Alpena on Friday.

“If you have two stores downtown, who’s going to come downtown? Nobody,” Thomas said. “The more little stores like this that you have, the better it is for everybody.”

When downtown shops thrive, they generate businesses for the stores around them, as well, said Thomas, who happily steers customers to restaurants and other businesses where shoppers might find what they’re looking for.

And a busy, bustling downtown — offering the fun of wandering small shops and discovering unique treasures — means locals have a place to bring guests or to spend an afternoon having fun in their own city, Thomas said.

Shopping local means supporting stores like Gary’s Shoe Service, the only place in Northeast Michigan offering shoe repairs, said store owner Gary Roussin.

More commonly known as the Red Wing shoe store, the business through a succession of owners has shod Alpena’s feet for close to a century, its corner building one of the city’s downtown staples, albeit at a distance from the main downtown drag.

Though he sometimes feels like the “redheaded stepchild” compared to the stores a few blocks away, Roussin said the city supports him, and loyal customers return again and again for his expanding lineup of brand names.

Dedicated to one product only, the store can offer what big stores often can’t: footwear as dependable as the building in which they are sold, with in-person service and quality that customers can touch, Roussin said.

Plus, as a local owner serving customers he knows, he can be flexible on prices and give people breaks when he knows they really need them, he said.

Customers may get sticker shock the first time they come in, but, compared to largely disposable goods often attached to low prices, a small, local retailer can offer quality that lasts and saves money in the long run, said Roussin’s wife and co-owner, Donna Roussin.

Bigger crowds will probably come today, after they’ve shopped the big box stores and are looking for something unique, said Janet Wallace, owner of the Rabbit Hole.

Part gift shop, part art studio, the store showcases handmade jewelry and other work of several local artists, including Wallace, whose charming paintings grace the walls.

She opened the store she also uses as her personal art studio some years ago because “I like people, and people like shopping,” Wallace said.

Shoppers don’t forget the small stores just outside the hustle and bustle of the primary downtown storefronts. Customers don’t mind an extra stop or extended stroll for a chance at the unique items they’ll find a few blocks away, she said.

Some say a fun shopping outing requires a trip somewhere else.

With the addition of several local stores and the continual effort put into improving Alpena’s downtown, “this IS the somewhere else,” Wallace said. “This is where people come. It just feels good.”

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