Some local businesses disappointed by Black Friday weekend Discounts spur sprees for other small retailers

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By Annika McGinnis, The Diamondback (Dec. 5, 2013)

When shoppers stampede to retail giants on Black Friday each year, small businesses can be left in the dust — and in student-filled College Park, the holiday shopping weekend wasn’t on some stores’ radars.

Nationwide, Small Business Saturday — a day to garner support for local shops between Black Friday and Cyber Monday — led to better-than-ever sales numbers, as consumers across the country spent $5.7 billion at independent retailers.

But in restaurant-dominated College Park, many businesses didn’t have special Friday or Saturday sales, and those that did saw few customers, owners said. And with most students headed home soon for winter break, the stores may not see another chance for major business this year.

On Saturday, College Park Bicycles offered discounts promoted by American Express for the nationwide event, but the store “probably saw about two customers all day,” general manager Charles Pleisse said.

“People don’t come to College Park for Black Friday. There aren’t tons of shopping opportunities,” Pleisse said. “I’ve worked for the store for about 12 years, and it’s always been that way.”

At Smile Herb Shop in Berwyn, Black Friday sales were “really bad,” said Shea Moore, general manager. Sales picked up on Sunday when people were back in town, he said.

Still, some local retailers had a successful weekend. Big Planet Comics’ Black Friday discounts, including a 30 percent off storewide sale, led to a 300 percent sales increase, owner Peter Casazza said. And Rugged Wearhouse, which had extended hours, sold designer merchandise such as GUESS and Juicy Couture and saw an increase in purchases, assistant manager Danielle Swidrak said.

Typically, Black Friday kicks off the holiday shopping season and is the sales highlight of the year for many retailers. But as a huge population of students leave town in mid-to-late December, College Park businesses operate a little differently, said Michael Stiefvater, the city’s economic development coordinator.

“Restaurants don’t do as well in January,” Stiefvater said. “A large portion of their customer base isn’t here. They don’t have to buy as many products; maybe they don’t need as many servers.”

Some merchants, such as Smile Herb Shop and Wood’s Flowers and Gifts, located about two miles north of the campus, report a business spike during the season. Wood’s Flowers sells fresh miniature Christmas trees, wreaths and other holiday decorations, said co-owner and manager Lisa Wilder, and winter is the store’s best season.

But a quiet January affects most businesses, store representatives said.

College Park Bicycles’ sales rise and fall with the coming and going of students, who often come to buy locks or seek flat tire repairs. And at Big Planet Comics, the first two weeks of December bring in huge sales, Casazza said, followed by a huge decrease when students leave for the break.

This year, several businesses selling leisure items said they’ve experienced notable drops in sales, which they attributed in part to consumers’ distrust in the economy after the 16-day government shutdown and other economic uncertainties. Rates of consumer confidence overall are much lower this year than in 2012,Thomson Reuters reported Nov. 27 in its monthly survey.

Especially in the Washington area, “people are not feeling good about their finances,” Casazza said. “[They] don’t have a lot of money to spend on comics.”

At Wilder’s shop, fewer people are buying flowers. After the shutdown, sales still hadn’t picked up, she said.

But as College Park sees an increasingly diverse set of independent businesses, the city is upping its efforts to help them, Stiefvater said. Since 2012,the city has sponsored a “buy local” or restaurant week during August, sponsoring deals at local restaurants. In November, the city also gave out money to seven locally owned retailers as part of its Commercial Tenant Improvement Program.

To help restaurants wade their way through the sluggish winter, Stiefvater said the city will hold a second restaurant week in late January.

As the holidays approach, College Park retail owners are emphasizing their quality and personal interaction with customers rather than discounts. It’s what sets them apart from big-name stores that bombard consumers with holiday sales, owners said.

At College Park Bicycles, for instance, Pleisse said workers don’t just “sell a bike.”

“You don’t just go buy a bike and become a cyclist,” he said. “You need a place to put on a spare tire so you can get back home. You need a helmet to be safe, gloves so your hands don’t get blistered. We try to provide a full experience.” original story 


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