So far, so good.
After looking at a register receipt that her daughter ran back to her, store owner Gracie Robinson predicted this year’s Friday after Thanksgiving would compare with the same day in 2001, sales-wise.
Friday marked the start of the holiday shopping season – and the start of a make-or-break period for the small retail shops that line the area’s historic streets.
“It means everything – we make it on holiday shopping,” said Robinson, owner of Jewel in the Crown, a toy store at 109 E. Main St in Grass Valley that relies on holiday shopping for half its annual sales. “I think most retail stores are in that situation, especially for toys.”
Martha Meredith, owner of J.J. Jackson’s, 244 Commercial St., also predicted a Friday on par with last year. Her store was crowded with people looking through books, clothing, personal care accessories and other items.
“We’re neck and neck with last year, which is really good,” Meredith said.
A sluggish economy and a shortened 26-day shopping season – down from 32 days last year – could make this shopping season a little more nerve-wracking for merchants.
Meredith expects this year’s sales to be similar or better than last year’s. Meredith bought carefully with a similar inventory. She has doubled her staff to pace with the busy holiday season and extended store hours.
Meredith and other Nevada City merchants had their own worries about whether construction work on a burned-out section of buildings would make it harder for people to access the stores.
While construction did affect the store earlier this year, Meredith now believes the problems have dwindled along with the dust from the work. The construction has even become a draw at times for people who like to watch the new building go up.
“We’re not in the home stretch, but I think the hard part is behind us,” said Meredith. “We’re not having windows washed twice a week any more.”
Local merchants also face competition from Sacramento-area shopping, including the mammoth Galleria shopping center in Roseville, and a Target store in Auburn.
The business chambers and store owners do their best to keep shoppers here, preaching the benefits of local shopping – less time spent driving, no crowded malls.
“I don’t know why people would go and subject themselves to that (shopping in a mall),” said Mary Ann Mueller, president and chief executive officer of the Grass Valley/Nevada County Chamber of Commerce.
Customer service touches, like gift wrapping, help keep people shopping locally, said Meredith.
The cities have their own attractions – quaint historic downtowns that drew people to visit friends and family in the area over the Thanksgiving weekend. Many walked on Broad Street in Nevada City on Friday, packing the sidewalks and enjoying the sunshine.
Both towns host a number of holiday-oriented events that start this weekend, bringing more people to the area.
Grass Valley has its string of Cornish Christmas events starting Friday.
Nevada City has Christmas craft fairs this weekend at the United Methodist Church and at the Nevada City Elks Lodge. The Nevada County Fairgrounds also has a crafts fair this weekend.
Starting on Dec. 4, Nevada City’s Victorian Christmas – held rain or shine – tries to capture the old-fashioned holiday spirit with window decorations, roasted chestnuts and merchants dressing in Victorian attire.
“It captures the spirit of Christmas,” said Cathy Whittlesey, executive manager of the Nevada City Chamber of Commerce. “That’s why people like to shop here.”
WHERE: Grass Valley1s Cornish Christmas
WHEN: Nov. 29, Dec. 6, Dec. 13 and Dec. 20
WHERE: Nevada City1s Victorian Christmas
WHEN: Dec. 4, Dec. 11, Dec. 18 and Dec. 22
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