Local shops around Western Pa. vie for share of holiday jingle

| Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013, 11:58 p.m.

Dr. Kristen Stephen and her family will hit the stores on Black Friday, but they won't be lined up in malls or big-box stores.

“I avoid the mall on Black Friday at all costs,” the Sewickley resident said.

Instead, Stephen and her family will stroll Sewickley's quaint Village business district and visit one-of-a-kind clothing boutiques, sweets shops and jewelry stores.

“Most of the store owners are also our neighbors, part of the community. It's nice to shop in stores where you know the owners,” Stephen said.

Sewickley is among a growing number of towns marketing the advantages of holiday shopping on their main streets, where locally owned stores and other businesses typically are located.

From Sewickley to Mt. Lebanon to Butler, stores are partnering with each other and economic development groups to roll out discounts, prize giveaways, visiting Santas, window decorating contests, musical performances and snacks to draw customers to their main streets during the winter holiday shopping season.

“Because they really are kind of the heart of the community,” said Chelynne Curci, main street manager for Butler Downtown.

Most small businesses can't match large chains on Black Friday when it comes to price discounts, but one expert says they can compete in other ways.

“Generally speaking, small businesses should be cognizant of what they do better than their competition whether it is other small businesses or large chains,” said Jason Greenberg, an assistant professor in New York University's Leonard N. Stern School of Business.

“This might include having a more convenient location, better service or a layout that is more intuitive and easier to navigate than competitors. It may also be the case that small businesses carry products that larger retailers do not.”

Small Business Saturday, an initiative that American Express started in 2010, encourages shopping at small stores the day after Black Friday and has gained momentum.

Village Green Partners, a nonprofit that promotes Sewickley's business district, is organizing events in the village through Dec. 21 called Yuletide in Sewickley, which include a store window-decorating contest on Small Business Saturday, said Alexandra DeLoia, marketing director for Village Green Partners.

“Nine times out of 10, they have better customer service (than chain stores), but Black Friday has become insane and Small Business Saturday is really a welcome break from what it's become,” DeLoia said. “It kind of reminds people that there are businesses that make up the community that are here.”

Offering unique goods has set House15143 apart from chain competition, said Kristin Bordeau, co-owner of the home décor and interior design business on Beaver Street in Sewickley.

The store will open an hour early, at 9 a.m., on Black Friday and has added Sunday hours through January. But store employees won't work from dawn until late night during the holiday season, she said.

“We're a family community. We take that to heart,” she said.

Ragged Row, a women's clothing boutique on Beaver Street in Sewickley, will offer discounts on Black Friday and Small Business Saturday that start at 25 percent and decrease through the day, said owner Brigitte Nguyen.

“I serve coffee; we have doughnuts. We kind of make it more like a girls' morning,” she said.

Mt. Lebanon's Washington Road, known as the Uptown business district, and Beverly Road feature an eclectic mix of shops and restaurants that benefit from walkable streets, said Eric Milliron, commercial districts manager.

Beverly and Washington roads are decorated for the holidays, and Beverly Bright Nite, a holiday celebration, will take place on Dec. 5. Uptown shops will participate in Small Business Saturday. Events include businesses hosting a letter-writing station to Santa at a spa, a cookie decorating station and musical performances, said organizer Karen Wolowski, co-owner of Koolkat Designs, an art consignment business.

Many small businesses incorporate more social media into their marketing.

Ruffles & Truffles, a children's clothing boutique on Main Street in Butler, nearly closed two years ago because of competition from discounters and the slow economy, said Debbi Ruth, who owns the 17-year-old store.

Business turned around when one of Ruth's customers set up a Facebook page to showcase the store's apparel and accessories.

“Facebook has changed our life because I'm able to target my audience,” she said. She expects to make a profit this holiday season for the first time in seven years.

The growing emphasis on shopping local might be working, retail and marketing experts say.

Last year, 50 communities organized events leading up to and on Small Business Saturday, said Scott Krugman, spokesman for American Express. This year, 1,500 communities will do so, he said.

This year, 66 percent of shoppers plan to shop locally at small or independent businesses and they plan to spend an average 34 percent of their holiday budgets in local stores, according to a national survey of 5,018 people that New York-based Deloitte LLP released this month.

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or tparrish@tribweb.com.

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