Tuesday, December 5, 2023

‘That love and little community vibe’: How to shop local this holiday season

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As shoppers get ready to open their wallets for the holiday gift-buying season that kicks off this weekend, local business owners and officials are encouraging them to keep things local.

“People’s habits of buying have changed, and they’re no longer going into a store. They’re going online. But think about the impact that might have on a business or community,” said Thelma Castillo, CEO and president of the Blue Water Area Chamber of Commerce. “We really need to start going back into the stores to help out. We understand everybody wants the easy, convenient way of shopping — Amazon or whatever store you buy from online. But the reality is, it’s our communities that are suffering.”

And the biggest impact, Castillo said, can be had on communities’ downtowns, where plenty of businesses along St. Clair County’s riverfront central business districts are gearing up for sales, Small Business Saturday two days after Thanksgiving, and other programs aimed to entice visitors.

“They’re the ones that are helping you with your soccer practice, your local little league tournament. Even though the big boxes have all the big sales, it’s really the people that live in your community that make a difference,” she said. “… That’s what we’re really trying to push out there because some of our downtowns are truly struggling right now.”

For more on regional stores, visit the business directory on the area chamber’s website at https://web.bluewaterchamber.com/search.

Retail shops looking for support in St. Clair

In St. Clair, as last Friday’s parade helped get residents into the holiday spirit early, shoppers sauntered in and out of some retail shops that remained open that evening at Riverview Plaza.

Amunni Boutique owner Ann Marie Oldford was helping a customer consider a choice of bags.

The store carries a variety of women’s clothing, holiday ware, and other items like candles, gloves, and sherpa bags, which Oldford can be stuffed with “gift cards and cute little accessories.”

Both she and her colleague Amy Kent, who was also flitting between and aiding customers, agreed it was important to shop local during such a busy shopping season.

“Just to keep that love and little community vibe going. Just to be neighborly. And just to be a community for all the people that live in the area,” Kent said, adding they, like other businesses, often support local fundraisers.

“You need people to stay in the community and (to) support your local businesses because if you don’t, there won’t be any place to go shop,” Oldford said.

Riverview Plaza has a dozen retailers ranging from small boutiques like Oldford’s, to more catch-all branded stores like the Dollar Tree and St. Clair Ace Hardware.

Across the plaza, Bear and the Hare was among the businesses that had to close temporarily following damage to the mall after a severe storm this summer.

That’s where mother and daughter co-owners Patti and Caitlin Barnum said they were updating their custom craft goods to include holiday items.

“All the apparel, Caitlin and I design everything, and then, we have it locally printed,” Patti said. “All the logos, they’re all original to us.”

Her daughter chimed in, “We’re really local. All our designs are either Great Lakes or St. Clair-inspired. Then, we also work with other small companies to make it happen, which is nice.”

Patti said Caitlin custom wood-burns items, like charcuterie boards and felt hats to leather, with baby items and wedding gifts, adding, “We like to make it personal.” Now, for the holidays, she said they’re adding small wooden ornaments to the mix.

And as a final touch, Caitlin said of her mother: “Her gift wrapping is out of this world.”

For more, visit www.riverview-plaza.com.

In Port Huron, downtown gift cards cover a variety of businesses

Like other communities in the area, Port Huron’s downtown businesses were also getting ready for the holidays and this upcoming weekend’s shoppers.

“Today, I just walked into the Closet by A Beautiful Me, and they were actively changing their display to not only mimic the holiday season,” said Natacha Hayden, the city’s Downtown Development Authority director. “They usually sell dresses; however, that is not a hot item for the holidays. So, now they are bringing all their accessories and things like that, (which) would be a better fit for the holiday shopping and holiday gifting. You see that happening throughout downtown.

“We have amazing retail shops that have gifts of their own, like Lounies Soap, or even Massage 325, they highlight all the jewelry that they make, as well as soaps and handmade things that they have. Those are fun gives to give to the family.”

But for the people who find it hard to pick, Hayden pointed to the city’s growing downtown gift card program, now in its third year.

The downtown gift card can be picked up online or at the city treasurer’s office for any amount between $10 and $500. Currently, over 20 businesses are listed as participants.

Last Thursday, Hayden said Dot’s Candy Bar had just been added, and she anticipated others like the Wrigley Center and McMorran to join, as well.

“This is the time of year we do the most sales,” she said. “Like for teachers or the people you just don’t know that specific gift…You just want to give the gift of options, and that’s where this program becomes the perfect option for them. You don’t have to choose between Casey’s or a pair of shoes. You can get them both if you’d like.”

For more information, visit https://downtownph.com/gift-cards. To pick up a card at the treasurer’s office in the Municipal Office Center, 100 McMorran Blvd., hours are typically 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. week days, though the MOC is closed Thursday and Friday for the holiday.

Another local, off-the-beaten-path option: Museum gift shops

Port Huron Museums was promoting three of its sites, excluding the Huron Lightship, which is closed, as destinations for holiday shoppers, particularly this weekend.

Lauren Nelson, a site manager at the Fort Gratiot Light Station, said they had sales planned for the gift shops at the lighthouse, Carnegie Center, and the Thomas Edison Depot Museum.

Although a nonprofit, she said like a small business, they “still have to make money,” also taking advantage of a larger “National Museum Store Sunday.”

“For like a two-hour period on Saturday, anything with Michigan on it is 25% off. That’s T-shirts, coffee mugs, shot glasses, postcards, anything that has the state, state name, anything like that,” Nelson said. “And we’re doing six total flash sales. So, we’re doing like Michigan items. One day is drinkware, coffee cups and shot glasses. We have a couple pint glasses. I’m even counting with coasters in that because we have quite a few.

“And then, Christmas items is one of the sales, as well. That includes ornaments, that includes some of the Michigan merchandise we have. I have told staff to be lenient about what counts in these categories. Like we’re trying to get rid of stuff here. And the best way to know about all of these things is just to follow our Facebook page.”

The open site hours remain 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., except at the light station gift shop this Saturday when it will be open until 8 p.m.

Andrew Kercher, community engagement manager, said they’re excited for the season.

“We’ll have all those Christmas light trolley tours and lighthouse climbs scheduled. We just finished decorating for Christmas, so the lighthouse has its lights on – like more lights than normal,” he said. “So, that’s always a place we encourage people to check out. I think people do become pleasantly surprised when they realize how many unique things they can get at the museum store when they visit.”

To learn more, follow www.facebook.com/PortHuronMuseum.

Contact Jackie Smith at (810) 989-6270 or jssmith@gannett.com.

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