ASHLAND – A sunny and mild start to Small Business Saturday greeted morning shoppers who were in town to spend their dollars locally. This year, more than 19 local businesses participated in Small Business Saturday, a national marketing event started in 2010 that encourages holiday shoppers to patronize small and local brick- and-mortar businesses.
Holiday shoppers from as far away as Pennsylvania and as close as down the block hit the pavement searching for holiday gems. Many carried shopping bags emblazoned with local logos, while some sported “Shop Small” lapel pins.
Stacyn Zimmerman and Jena Rabe, both of Lincoln, were sitting on a bench in front of The Gift Niche, enjoying the warm late November sunshine. They had just finished eating lunch at Breadeaux Pizza, and were about to shop for Christmas trinkets. Last year they had shopped Silver Street on Small Business Saturday, so they had a pattern and a plan.
“We like to hit these little shops,” Zimmerman said. “And the people here are just so nice.”
Rabe said they were once again looking specifically for decorative snowmen with painted faces. “This is the only place we’ve found that carries these,” she said.
Next door, Jill Klaudt, The Olde Farmhouse owner, said her store had been busy all morning.
“We’ve had a lot of foot traffic so far,” she said.
Klaudt said that while many shoppers were buying Christmas-themed items like little canvas signs and ornaments others were purchasing clothing and jewelry.
“We’ve had a lot of repeat customers from Omaha, Lincoln, Wahoo and Fremont,” she said.
Standing behind the sales counter with her daughter Jessica, Klaudt said customers often mention how much they like the variety of stores Ashland’s downtown features.
“We’ve had groups of women who’ve come to make a day of it, have lunch, shop and then sip some wine,” she said, referring to wine tastings at the Glacial Till Vineyard store across the street.
Kayleen and Alexie Logue of Blooms Flowers and Gifts said they too had seen a lot of foot traffic, but weren’t sure yet if that would translate into meaningful sales. Fayne Petersen of Raikes Beef said foot traffic into her store had been steady, with a solid rush of business coming between 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.
“We were crazy busy then,” she said smiling.
But not everyone was buying Christmas gifts.
Bernie and Susan Handler were visiting Ashland during on a 48-hour trip to Omaha to celebrate a cousin’s 90th birthday. The Handlers, from New Hope, Pennsylvania, had bought cards and gift bags at Postscript, a soft lap blanket at Salt Creek Mercantile, a vintage Leon Redbone vinyl album and a Richie Ashburn baseball card from The Spare Closet. They said they were visiting Ashland for the second time and found its historic downtown “charming.”
“This is a smaller, more down to earth version of where we live,” Bernie said.
Sue Palmer of Ashland didn’t have to travel very far to support local businesses.
“People like the variety of our shops here,” Palmer said, blinking in the sunshine. “They like the ambience of our main street.”
Palmer said she believes Small Business Saturday is a valuable annual promotion for everyone. She said keeping dollars in the Ashland area is good for both merchants and customers.
Audrey Ross, a clerk at Salt Creek Mercantile, said her store was “pretty consistently busy” most of the day. She said customers were buying mostly Christmas decorations, especially the handmade soap made in Hastings and the handmade wax candles made in the store.
Ross helped Micki Pane of Omaha purchase a Christmas candle, decorative garland and festive cards.
Laura Capp, owner of PostScript, called the traffic into her shop “lively.”
Liz Kummer, a PostScript clerk, said she wasn’t sure what to expect from Saturday’s promotional event.
“I’m a bit surprised by so many shoppers as a whole,” she said.
Capp, who moved to Ashland from Iowa City, Iowa but grew up in nearby Murdock, said that she’s been “pleasantly surprised” by the supportive, family-friendly community of Ashland in general.
“In this digital age, my opening a stationary store in a town of 2,500 residents seems a little crazy on one hand, but we’ve experienced a healthy amount of business and so much support here.”
Kim Cooper of Cooper Studio and Gallery, which is filled with art, ceramics, jewelry and original gifts, said a couple from Ashland visited his shop for the first time on Saturday. Cooper, a plein air landscape artist, explained that art sales are usually based on emotional attachment and can happen all year long, not only around Christmas.
“There’s no rhyme or reason when it comes to buying art,” he said. “Last year, we had a good November, but really, art sales are not tied to the calendar.”
An afternoon of clouds and colder temperatures did nothing to dampen the spirits of friends Kirsten Mills and Tracy Wimmer, both from Omaha. The women were having fun buying “C” items – candles, cards, coffee and cider.
“This is such a cute town and such a good location between Lincoln and Omaha,” Mills said.
Shirley Niemeyer, chair of Small Business Saturday for the third year, said she wanted to let people who participated in Small Business Saturday know how grateful she was for their involvement and support.
“Thank you to all the people who shopped local and thank you to all the businesses that offered special coupons and sales for that day,” Niemeyer said by phone. “It’s really important to keep our dollars in the Ashland area.”