Downtown Dollars, Small Business Saturday help small, local retailers

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz The storefront of Sweet Baby James Children’s Boutique shows Christmas decorations in its front windows last week.

ALPENA — The big-box stores may get most of the hype when it comes to Christmas shopping and holiday sales, but local small businesses in Alpena have angled themselves to earn a piece of the Christmas spending pie.

Smaller retailers and service-type businesses enjoy the crowds of people seeking unique presents that large retailers don’t offer during Black Friday, which happens today, and Small Business Saturday, which happens on Saturday.

The popularity of gift cards and programs such as the Alpena Downtown Development Authority’s Downtown Dollars also bolster sales and attract customers during the holiday season shopping frenzy.

Cedars and Threads owner Griffin James said that, over the last few weeks, shopping at his retail shop on Chisholm Street has begun to amp up. He anticipates it will peak today and on Saturday. He said there are always deals to be found, but, this weekend, there will be steeper price cuts of which people will surely want to take advantage.

“Black Friday seems to be more about the big chain stores, but we have a whole section of the store discounted with a ton of good deals,” he said. “Then, on Small Business Saturday, we do things a little differently and there will be plenty of specials. Last year, people really come out of the woodwork on Small Business Saturday.”

The growth downtown, which includes new stores, restaurants, a brewery, and more, has created many options for people to purchase gift cards or the Downtown Dollars for people to give and receive as gifts. Most of the businesses accept the faux currency and, if they don’t participate in the program, they often offer some type of gift certificate individually from the DDA.

Anne Gentry, executive director of the DDA, said that, over the last several years, the DDA and small business have seen a spike in the amount of Downtown Dollars flowing into the stores after the holidays.

“It is a big boost for businesses to accept those Downtown Dollars,” she said. “The program operates year-round, but they are really popular this time of year. A lot of employers give them out for Christmas and it does provide a boost to the businesses downtown.”

James takes part in the Downtown Dollar program and he said he believes the promotion is becoming more popular. Each year about this time, he begins to see more people paying for items with them.

“They are being used quite a bit,” James said.

When a store receives the Downtown Dollars, they redeem them to the DDA for reimbursement.

Gentry said that, although a lot of the holiday shopping season is focused on Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday, which happens Monday and promotes online shopping deals, the DDA is hosting events earlier in the season to encourage people to come downtown to capitalize on early holiday sales and promotions. She said special events often mean more foot traffic, and that increases the likelihood that people will pop in and out of stores.

“We have a few major events, like our Holiday Open House, which is really the kickoff to the holiday shopping season, and it gives the small businesses a jumpstart for holiday shopping,” Gentry said. “Businesses said it was one of their busiest days, and that is an event we hope to continue growing. We also do a lot of marketing on our social media to encourage people to shop locally.”


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