November 30, 2011REGION—A "sneak preview" snowstorm just before the Thanksgiving weekend may have helped to jumpstart the all important holiday shopping season in the local area, but retailers in the Plymouth, Newfound and Waterville region are also saying that the "Shop Local" movement is paying dividends for the local economy too.
The early snow was definitely a cause for rejoicing at local ski resorts. Waterville Valley President Bob Fries reported that thousands of skiers hit the slopes at the popular local mountain. Waterville opened its 45th season with 52 trails open, and skiing accessible from the Peaks Express Quad and High Country Lift.
The snow undoubtedly created picture perfect conditions for Santa's traditional arrival by dogsled in the Square over the weekend. The crowd to welcome him to Waterville Square was estimated at more than 600 people, and the Jolly One was kept busy visiting with more than 200 kids (and at least as many parents – but don't tell!). Lots of folks stuck around for the fireworks festivities over Corcoran Pond in the evening, as well.
Equally important, the Village merchants were pleased, reporting overall a 10 to 20 percent increase in sales over this weekend last year. Occupancy at Town Square Condos was reported up by an amazing 70 percent over the weekend.
Local restaurants were very busy on Thanksgiving Day. The Country Cow in Campton enjoyed a record breaking day, serving more than 300 people at their All U Can Eat Thanksgiving buffet.
While WalMart and some of the other "big box" retailers presented a challenge to local small businesses by opening on Thanksgiving Day this year, retailers from around the region seemed upbeat and optimistic following the Black Friday and Small Business Saturday shopping days.
Black Friday was particularly busy, while for some reason, Saturday sales seemed to disappoint some of the small businesses and boutique retailers in the area. Several store owners expressed a sense that the designated annual "Small Business Saturday" was not as well publicized as it has been in the past, and others said it was difficult to compete this past weekend with the big advertised sales and bargains that the large national retail chains were offering. But shop owners also almost universally agreed that their customers expressed an active interest in "shopping locally" this holiday season for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was the personal service and individualized attention that a customer gets from the smaller stores.
Nevertheless, there seemed to be more "browsers" than buyers at some of the high-end local arts and crafts galleries and clothing boutiques on Saturday this past weekend. Time will tell whether the reported increase in foot traffic will pay off later in the season.
At Inspire 2 Knit and Tea in Plymouth, Ursula Cohen is offering festive holiday goodies on Saturdays between now and Christmas. Cohen, and Loretta Botelho from Country Quilters next door at Plymouth Commerce Park are famous for offering guidance to the novice as well as excellent advice for the seasoned crafter and a lot of encouragement along with the large inventory of yarns and fabrics in stock. Cohen points out that there is still plenty of time to finish projects before Christmas arrives and she points out that gift certificates also make very good presents if you are uncertain about what someone might like.
They had a great weekend at Chesley's Glory Station in Campton, a favorite destination for holiday shoppers in part because of the always beautifully decorated Christmas loft upstairs. The folks at Chesley's were reporting sales up by 49 percent over last year at this time, even before the big holiday sale on Dec. 9, 10 and 11. That is their annual "pop a balloon" sale event, where each customer coming to the registers will pop a balloon to reveal the amount of savings on their purchase (form 10 to 50 percent off!). They also give away a free Christmas ornament with every purchase of $15 or more.
Wholly Tara In Ashland, the unique boutique across the patio from everyone's favorite Common Man Restaurant, was reporting triple the sales this past weekend over previous Black Friday and Small Business Saturday weekends. The success in sales my due, in part, to owner Tara Leonard's Internet savvy and her innovative use of Facebook and other social media marketing sites to promote the one-of-a-kind items in her store.
Many stores, like Earthly Treasures in Bristol and Dressers Unlimited in Plymouth, help make things easier and more convenient for harried shoppers by offering holiday gift wrapping. That is not just a timesaver, but in some cases the icing on the cake for some shoppers who might be otherwise ribbon and wrapping paper challenged.
Earthly Treasures is also holding an Open House weekend on Dec. 10 and 11, with all American fine arts and crafts items from 400 artists and artisans, most from New England.
Down the street in Bristol, at the former "Wheel House of Gifts," business was brisk as Cardigan Mountain Soaps and Cardigan Mountain Orchards has once again launched their popular cooperative holiday market with many local artists and crafters supplementing the apples, cider, jellies, jams, soaps and scents (homemade in Alexandria) that make a perfect gift for any Newfound Lake lover during the holiday season. Fortunately for everyone in Bristol and the surrounding region, building on the popularity of their annual holiday market, the Cardigan Mountain owners have recently purchased the building and in the upcoming months after Christmas we can expect to see them doing renovations in order to open up a year-around old- fashioned country store at the popular location. Stay tuned for more information.
The Plymouth area's popular artists cooperative gallery on Main Street downtown, Artistic Roots, also saw a steady stream of sales and lots of window shoppers. Executive Director Monique MacIntosh says that items reflecting the joy of living and doing work in New Hampshire are extremely popular, as well as recycled or "upcycled" items like bicycle gears made into mobiles, sweaters into cell phone pouches, packing paper into beads and jewelry.
The newest business on the block, Crafters in Cahoots in Plymouth, reported its best week ever for sales.
"The more people begin to hear of us, the more business we do," reports an enthusiastic Gusti Buhrman. "We are attracting new and exciting artists, photographers and crafters every day. We now have toys, doll clothes (American Girl), yummy chocolates, whimsical art by Carolina Sterling- Marquez and so much more. The response has been wonderful."