Sarah Barefield was pleased with her weekend, if not a little amazed.
As manager for The Purple Elephant on Wilkins Wise Road in Columbus, she saw crowds of customers during Black Friday and Shop Local Saturday move through the registers with holiday gift purchases, mostly Mississippi-made pottery items.
Most customers took advantage of the store’s gift-wrapping option, complete with a signature, hand-crafted bow.
“We do a great job gift wrapping,” Barefield said. “A lot of people come and shop just for our gift-wrapping. We also just try to be as nice as possible.”
So far, locally owned businesses in Columbus and Starkville have reported a strong start to the Christmas shopping season. If Friday and Saturday are any indication, many local businesses will outperform last year’s sales.
Barefield said though it’s difficult sometimes to compete with larger retailers and online shopping, The Purple Elephant stayed busy throughout the weekend, offering products and services customers can’t find anywhere else.
“We were very busy,” Barefield said. “It was beautiful weather and people were out shopping. We just couldn’t have asked for anything better. It was just better this year. We were very happy with the customers that came in, and if it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be here.”
Gloria Herriott, owner of Hollyhocks boutique and gift shop downtown, also noticed a larger influx in customers over the weekend.
“It’s the economy. It is so strong right now,” Harriott said. “Small businesses know when it’s real. We’re off to a really good Christmas season. People have more money to spend and they feel comfortable spending it.”
Main Street Director Barbara Bigelow said the past weekend showed the community is interested in maintaining strong local businesses.
“I’ve had great responses from our merchants from both days — Black Friday and Shop Small Saturday,” Bigelow said. “We certainly appreciate people supporting them. It’s so good for our economy. Everything we spend with our local merchants, of course, stays in our community and it feeds our economy. That’s always good for the community. It’s just important to keep your money local.”
In Starkville, George Sherman noticed a larger crowd than last year at his clothing store on Russell Street, even though the annual Thanksgiving week Egg Bowl football game between Mississippi State and Ole Miss was in Oxford this year.
Sherman said with this past weekend’s success, he decided to continue his Black Friday specials until the end of the month. Sherman primarily sold True Grit Sherpas, which were buy-one, get-one free. He said his store offers a personalized touch that can’t be found online.
“We specialize in service. We really talk to our customers and find out what their needs are and meet those needs,” Sherman said. “We were pleasantly surprised. There were a lot of people in town this year. Even though the game was in Oxford, we had a lot more business this year.”
Sherman, who expects this season to be more successful than the last, said brick-and-mortar sales, especially those at locally owned businesses, are the lifeblood of a community’s retail economy.
“Shop local, because those dollars turn back to the community,” Sherman said. “When you shop online, they do not. We support lots of organizations in town.”
The Lodge, an apparel store that sells mostly MSU-themed items, experienced a small decrease from last year’s opening weekend of the holiday season.
“It was a little bit lower, largely because the ball game didn’t bring traffic in,” owner John Hendricks said. “But we were fine. You just can’t beat that football traffic.”
Although the MSU football game was in Oxford this year, Hendricks said customers still poured in to purchase Egg Bowl victory t-shirts and cowbells for the holiday season.
“We’re very excited about the holiday season,” Hendricks said. “We always hope (people) shop locally because it affects local people. If you take your money out of town, you’re benefiting wherever that place is located. When you boil down to it, your local merchants support the local activities better.”
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