Downtown Lexington stores draw customers from clicks to bricks

By Abigail Summerville

Green wreaths on doors and sparkling lights in windows decorate downtown Lexington. Inside, shop owners are stocking shelves with Sherpa fleece and scented candles in preparation for the busiest shopping season of the year.

During this retail shopping season, which extends from Black Friday to Christmas Eve, local shoppers can expect free gift-wrapping, discounts and promotional parties.

Consumers are likely to spend more this holiday season, reflecting record low unemployment and rising wages. Analysts expect holiday retail sales will be up between four and five percent over 2017. And online shopping will account for more than half of the purchases, with 55 percent of consumers planning to shop online.

This shift to e-commerce is fueled by retail giant Amazon, which continues to take a toll, causing malls and big box retailers, such as Sears and Toys R Us, to close.

Lexington’s shop owners are relying on loyal customers to combat the “Amazon effect” and draw shoppers back from clicks to bricks.

Amy Craig, manager of Walkabout Outfitters, is hosting a Santa’s Helper Party for customers.

“It’s a holiday party for everyone in town to come and make a wish list,” Craig said. “We’re going to have drinks, snacks, door prizes, freebies, and all kinds of stuff.”

Walkabout Outfitters will also increase its staff and hours during the holiday season.

The Lexington CVS will even be open on Christmas Day. Besides shoppers who need last-minute gifts, this also benefits CVS employees. Taylor Richardson, the CVS manager, said employees get paid double their usual salaries for working on Christmas.

“If you’re a full-time employee, you get eight extra hours of holiday pay for just working that one day,” she said. “It’s like two days in one!”

Other stores are building up their gift-specific inventory of both classic and new products.

Lauren Haskell, manager of boutique Gladiola Girls, will be selling the classic, fuzzy Sherpa pullovers, but said, “a hot product this season has been our shoes and purses made from re-purposed Turkish rugs.”

During the holiday season, Gladiola Girls also sees an uptick in gift card sales. “We usually see that people will also buy a physical item in addition to the gift card, which helps sales,” Haskell said.

The Cocoa Mill Chocolate Company is stocking up on holiday favorites such as advent calendars, seasonally colored bags of nonpareils and boxes of assorted truffles.

The chocolate company is also planning to have a photo booth promotion where customers who take a picture in the shop will receive 10 percent off their next purchase if they show the photo.

What even Amazon can’t offer

Many shop owners said they are not afraid of the “Amazon effect” because customers appreciate the experience of browsing the shelves and touching products. Cindy Hughes, owner of Sugar Maple Trading Co., said her customers want something more than just cheap goods or speedy delivery.

She recalls shoppers who “stand and stare at the vintage candy jars in the shop and have wonderful memories… because their grandmother had that same candy jar and they leave happier than when they came in.”

Paige Gance, co-owner of tabletop gaming shop Just Games, said Amazon can’t host events or suggest gifts. “We have a fair number of parents who come in and say, ‘Help, I have a birthday party tomorrow or this afternoon,’” Gance said. “And even Amazon can’t ship that fast.”

Ella Rose, a Washington and Lee student, said she is consistently impressed by the owners’ gaming knowledge whenever she takes the two children she babysits to Just Games.

“The seventh grader bought some new trading cards last time. [Co-owner Zander Tallman] was super knowledgeable about them,” Rose said. “And he followed up with the second grader about a game she’d bought a few days earlier.”

Expertise and a good fit are essential for runners shopping at Lex Running Shop. “Trying on the right shoe and picking out the right running shoes is not suited for online,” said owner Jess Reid.

The store will also sponsor upcoming local holiday runs such as the Lexington Gobble Wobble and Main Street Lexington’s Jingle Bell Run/Walk.

Countering Cyber Monday

Main Street in Lexington. Photo by Brennan Black.

Many downtown shops are also participating in Small Business Saturday on Nov. 24. Earth, Fire & Spirit Pottery will be giving away $100 worth of gift cards and serve refreshments.

Gladiola Girls will offer their biggest discounts that day, and offer “a deal a day” throughout December.

Main Street Lexington, a non-profit marketing group, will be promoting the stores participating in Small Business Saturday. It will also sponsor a “Love Lexington Lotto” where shoppers who buy from participating stores will be entered in a drawing for a $1,000 shopping spree. Last season, the Bingo-meets-scavenger hunt featured 26 shops and restaurants.

Books & Co. owner Anna-Lisa Fitzgerald paid $150 to have her store featured on Main Street Lexington because it reinforces the “idea to shop local…which is very important,” Fitzgerald said.

Some stores still haven’t adapted to the changing retail landscape though. A small, blackboard sign outside of apparel store Alvin–Dennis says “Sport Coats 20 percent off” written in chalk. This is the only major advertisement for the store.

Owner Alvin Carter said he is relying on traditional foot traffic for sales.

“I grew up on a farm and used to say, well, we got to pray for rain. And now, in retail, I have to pray someone comes through the door,” Carter said. “Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.”

 

Andrew Brennan, Bryn McCarthy, Emma Derr, Sarah Sanchez, Kristina Stukalin, Olivia Hewitt, Tate Mikkelsen, Rachel Rothken and Sean Clark contributed to this story.