By Victoria Kidd
There’s a song that talks about the joy of receiving “brown paper packages, tied up with string.” It’s not a holiday song, but it does harken back to a time when the concept of gift giving was a little less commercial, perhaps even a little more sincere. There was a time when people did not have a deluge of holiday sales flyers, flashy television commercials, and ‘special offer” emails competing for their attention. They simply had a local store with a smiling sales clerk who knew their name and somehow always managed to know “just the thing” for the person on their list.
For some reason, we often reference that simpler time as “days gone by,” but is that simplicity lost to us really? Perhaps we only think it is because we have been sold the idea that our Christmas trees must be surrounded by mountains of neatly wrapped gifts that were all purchased at big-box retailers before sunrise on the day after Thanksgiving (or even before Thursday’s turkey has even settled). More and more, people are beginning to challenge the assertion that the days of shopping Main Streets, with their cherished simplicity, are gone.
In Clarke and Frederick counties, people are increasingly leaving their alarms unset on the day commonly called “Black Friday,” and instead are pledging their dollars to local and independently owned businesses. The movement to do so originated long ago, but most sources agree that it received its name—Plaid Friday—in Oakland, Calif. The city is one known for its shop local campaigns, but cities and towns across the country have adopted this particular initiative. Its name represents the weaving of individual threads (representing the creativity and diversity of independent businesses) together.
Plaid Friday is an idea. It’s a movement, a means to beckon people back to the roots of their communities, and it reminds people that shopping for friends and family can once again be an enjoyable and leisurely activity. (It’s complemented by “Small Business Saturday,” which is equally lauded in many communities.) The movement to “shop small, shop local” is also one that directly impacts the economy, both locally and on a national scale. According to Luanne Carey of Berryville Main Street, shopping local “supports the local business owner, provides employment in the community, and of the dollars spent, 70 percent remain in the community.”
That statistic is echoed by a recent Huffington Post article referencing a study that found locally owned businesses create 70 percent more local economic activity per square foot than the big box retailers who spend excessive amounts of money vying for our attention with their door buster bargains and primetime commercials. That money cycles directly back into the community, benefiting infrastructure projects and other community improvement efforts.
Echoing these reasons for supporting one’s local Main Street is Jennifer Bell, Downtown Manager of Winchester’s Old Town Development Board. “People should shop locally for many reasons,” she says. “Supporting small business owners makes a tremendous difference in the community overall. These business owners are the people who are supporting local charities and working to improve their communities. They offer employment and keep dollars circulating right here in our neighborhoods.”
Advocating across the state for those small business owners are organizations like Berryville Main Street and the Old Town Development Board in Winchester. Their work is part of the state’s Virginia Main Street Program, a preservation-based economic and community development program that provides local communities with support and resources to improve their downtown areas. (Their approach to improving local Main Streets is designed around successful methods developed by the National Trust Main Street Center.)
Berryville and Winchester are two of the 25 designated Virginia Main Streets in the state, making local residents the beneficiaries of significant investment (in terms of time and/or money) in their communities. Of such work, Carey says, “Our goal is to create a positive image that will rekindle community pride and improve consumer and investor confidence in our commercial district. Advertising, retail promotions, special events, and marketing campaigns help sell the image and promise of Main Street to the community and surrounding region, while promotions communicate our commercial district’s unique characteristics, business establishments, and activities to shoppers, investors, potential businesses, property owners, and visitors.”
People like Carey and Bell work alongside countless others to drive increased awareness of the value that shopping locally has for the community, but it is often the business owners themselves who really incentivize local shoppers to abandon the retail giants for stores where a welcome bell announces your arrival and a spoken “have a nice day” bids you farewell when you leave.
“For these business owners,” relays Bell, “it’s much more than just completing a transaction. They are responsive to their customers. You aren’t going to feel pressured. You are going to be greeted, remembered, and served. They remember your preferences and are really great at helping you select items if you don’t know what to buy. They also have specialty items you can’t find anywhere else.”
Such is certainly true of both Berryville and Winchester’s downtown areas. In Berryville, holiday shoppers have eclectic and welcoming stores like The Fire House Gallery and Shop, Sisters in Law, the Art Emporium, Family Trust Numismatics, Sponseller’s Flower Shop, My Neighbor and Me, and other stores. Winchester’s downtown includes stores like Bell’s Men’s & Women’s Clothing, Bluebells, Make Nest Interiors, Luciole, Old Town Silversmiths, Handworks Gallery, the Winchester Book Gallery, and many more.
These two areas are about 12 miles away from each other, but they are worlds away from the long lines, crowded aisles, and depleted shelves of the big box retailers. They are also distinguished by the events and activities that bring a real sense of community to those who frequently shop there. There are Berryville events like the Gingerbread Workshop for Children at the Barns of Rose Hill (November 22), a Christmas parade on Main Street (December 6), parking meter decorating (between November 10 and December 11), and several jewelry showcases (between November 29 and December 13). Across the county line, Winchester invites guests for the Old Town Parade and Tree Lighting Ceremony (December 1), visits with Santa (December 5–6), and a night of caroling and wagon rides at the Holly Jolly Celebration (December 13).
Visiting downtown area businesses is about more than simply marking a name off one’s holiday shopping list. It’s about connecting to one’s community, returning to a simpler time, and bringing money back “home” for use on our streets, in our cities. It’s about visiting a restaurant borne of local ambition or getting to know a shopkeeper who will remember you and have more than just a fleeting interest in your satisfaction. Perhaps it’s even (at least a little) about slowing down and enjoying a special time of year that should be about family, friends, and community.
So consider your family’s holiday routine. Perhaps it could use a little less quantity and a little more quality. Maybe shop less at those big-box retailers, and shop more at independently owned businesses. Perhaps instead of standing in long lines waiting to check out, spend time at The Barns of Rose Hill listening to a holiday concert or participating in a Thanksgiving centerpiece-building workshop at the Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum.
Take a moment to learn more about the shops of Berryville’s Main Street by visiting www.berryvillemainstreet.org. (While there, find out how you can make yourself eligible for a share of $1,500 in giveaways by shopping locally in Clarke County between November 10th and December 11th.) For more information on Old Town Winchester and its holiday events, visit www.oldtownwinchesterva.com or download the new Old Town Winchester App on Google Play and the iTunes Store.
More importantly, take a leap of faith with us, and visit local merchants located in and around your downtown area. Share photos of your local holiday shopping and dining experiences with us on our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/VaObserver). Perhaps a locally sourced gift that is wrapped up in brown paper packaging is just the thing to remind you of what the holidays are really all about.