COLUMBIA — Paul Vernon has been selling wine in downtown Columbia for 16 years. He said he doesn't give Black Friday a thought.
In fact, he often confuses the shopping holiday by calling it Black Tuesday.
"I haven't thought of it once," said Vernon, who owns Top Ten Wines on Ninth Street.
Vernon is among hundreds of local merchants heading into the holiday shopping season, with many stores anticipating mobs of bargain hunters beginning Thanksgiving night. Small businesses, though, have a much different perspective on the phenomenon.
Vernon, who was making cranberry sauce at his store while serving a customer, said that he doesn't compete with the big chains and that his wines are unique, unlike toys that can be found at multiple chain stores. That gives him no reason to hold a big sale like many stores do on and immediately after Thanksgiving Day.
Plus, Vernon noted, liquor sale advertisements are illegal, and the mark-up on wine is so low already that it can't be discounted much. Vernon might have a 10-day sale after Thanksgiving, he said, but that would only be to get rid of some of his wine and put new bottles on the shelves.
"I'm more of a destination shop," he said. Although he doesn't pay any attention to Black Friday, Vernon said fall is the best time of year for sales because customers are entertaining and buying gifts.
Across the street, Britches Clothing store manager Ashley Allen said business around Black Friday tends to be slower because most college students are home for the Thanksgiving break. Britches won’t hire any temporary workers for the holiday season unless a lot of the staff is away during December, she said.
But Britches’ sale, which began Wednesday and continues through Friday, is more of a way to get customers into the store, Allen said. Britches also is participating in Small Business Saturday this weekend. That event is an effort by American Express to get shoppers to bring their business to local merchants.
Contrary to many stores that rely on holiday sales to ensure the success of their businesses, Allen said Britches makes most of its money during the school year when students are in town.
Jessica Penner, executive director of Mustard Seed Fair Trade on Ninth Street, said her staff of volunteers is still determining what to do about Black Friday. Once it comes up with some ideas, it will promote them on its Facebook page.
“I don’t necessarily see it as a Black Friday for us,” she said. “It’s more just a busy three-day weekend.”
Gary and Sharon Duncan, who have owned Frameworks Gifts & Interiors at 901 N. Old 63 for 12 years, took a different approach this year to compete with chain stores’ holiday sales.
Frameworks has a deal with Columbia Home Magazine: The first 100 customers who come to the store on Friday will receive a free subscription to the magazine.
Like some other local business owners, Gary Duncan said he thinks his store’s unique products and niche clientele set his business apart from chain stores. Frameworks attracts women between 25 and 65 who tend to have a little more money to spend, and one-third of its customers come from towns outside of Columbia, he said.
Duncan said stores need to find their niche, noting that many local businesses cater specifically to college students.
Duncan said that Frameworks gets five times more traffic during the holiday season and that its holiday sales help the store make up for losses during the rest of the year.
Songbird Station store manager Holly Seaver said her store, which specializes in backyard, bird and nature products, doesn’t usually participate in Black Friday sales because shoppers head to chain stores and the Columbia Mall. But Songbird Station, located in Chapel Plaza Court, also is participating in Small Business Saturday. The store will hold another sale Nov. 30 through Dec. 1 to separate itself from Black Friday. It also has held sales in recent weeks.
Similar to other small-business owners' sentiments, Seaver said she doesn’t see chain stores as competition because Songbird Station sells unique products and is more of a specialty store for nature lovers. A trend she’s noticed in her past four years as manager, however, is that shoppers tend to hit the chain stores early for doorbuster deals and then come to places such as Songbird Station for more unique gifts.
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