A wave of optimism filled the air on a lively shopping weekend. While not all numbers have been tallied yet, business owners and leaders in Evanston said they felt shoppers were out.
“It has been very successful. Reports have come in that our business is really supported by our community,” said Angela Shaffer, CEO of Central Street Evanston.
“Foot traffic appears to be up from last year, but we’re still down from pre-pandemic levels,” said Annie Coakley, the district’s executive director. Mirroring other large cities, Evanston’s downtown area has been slower than other commercial areas of the city to recover from the pandemic’s decline.
Expect more people to shop on Saturdays
It was expected that there would be more foot traffic on Saturday for small businesses than on Black Friday.
People were also looking forward to seeing if their in-store shopping had picked up. You mentioned Adobe Analytics that despite inflation fears, online shoppers netted a record $9.12 billion on Black Friday.
“Everyone is looking to save a little bit,” Coakley said. Despite this, she added, the community is committed to supporting local businesses.
With consumers’ pockets straining, there is more demand for deals, discounts, and offers. Economists, business establishments and retail store owners have been watching trends this weekend in hopes of figuring out what bodes well for the holiday shopping season, especially in light of current inflation picture.
Coakley added that Downtown Evanston offered a $30 Evanston gift card to the first 80 people to spend $100 and turn in their passports, with gift cards quickly grabbed.
They’ve been constantly busy all day, said Mary Barnes, owner of Notice, a women’s clothing store on Central Street. Barnes said Saturday was “a very successful day of work”.
Other store owners agreed to:
“People enjoy Central Street. “It’s a great place to shop,” said Karen Graham, owner of Sew On Central. The shop, which opened in 2018, sells fabrics, patterns, and sewing supplies and also offers sewing lessons.
The area gets a lot of foot traffic, Graham said, as “there is something for everyone.” The 2.1 mile stretch is home to a number of businesses, ranging from showrooms and clothing stores to coffee shops and barbershops. Some companies have been around for 50 years.
Graham said the shop’s sewing workshops draw customers in droves, especially children. She added that a number of children attend sewing classes every week.
Business owners also suffer from inflation, supply chain issues and labor shortages, according to the National Federation of Independent Business. Graham said her business saw a 25% increase in the cost of a spool of thread, a key raw material.
However, she said, “we try not to raise prices too much” on the consumer side.
Despite the crisis, Graham said business has been doing well, particularly with parents and grandparents buying gifts for their children or grandchildren. For Graham, an event like Small Business Saturday holds great significance.
“As a small business owner, she focuses on shopping local,” she said. She added that the Evanston community is keen to support local businesses.
For Lois Combes, owner of the boutique Lois & Company, small business on Saturday “is a good start to the holiday season.” The store, which opened in 1992, has deals that range from 20 to 30 percent off—but only for today.
Combs said the holiday period brings her joy, because “Evanston supports small businesses.”
Shoppers want to support local
However, amid the economic uncertainty, shoppers remain divided. Although “things are more expensive now,” for longtime Evanstonian Sandy Taylor, her vacation expenses have stayed the same. Taylor, who has been retired and has been living in the city for three decades, said her spending would likely be more if she had a large family.
Meanwhile, married couple Ashley and Rob Pierce, both Evanston residents, said they were being more selective with their purchases.
“People are suffering, and businesses are struggling, so it’s important to support independent stores that often have unique products,” Ashley said. She added that they got some Christmas cards from Paper Source, a store that specializes in personalized gifts, cards and stationery.
On Central Street, holiday shopping trips take off sooner than in other areas in the area. The move, introduced last year, “gives people more time to manage finances,” Shaffer said.
After Black Friday the day before, more small businesses offered deals on Saturday, which increased turnout at the end of the week.
“Every year we get a little bit more engagement out of our business,” she said.
Still, some businesses, like The Spice House, which opened in Evanston in 1957, are less vulnerable to economic shocks. Vendor sells premium massages, salts and spice blends.
A store employee said that while costs have gone up, business has grown. He said the store’s customers are looking for high-quality ingredients, which has helped weather the economic pressures.
Gracie’s outlet nearby, which sells women’s clothing, gifts and pillows, has a similar story.
“People are not that sensitive when it comes to fashion,” said Neil Funk, a sales associate. She added that the store’s “user-friendly” nature attracts shoppers.
“We’re happy,” she said, during a busy period and packed store earlier in the day.