Local merchants report a happy holiday for sales

DOVER — For many small businesses, the holiday season represents a crucial turning point.

“Most local businesses make most of their money during the holiday season, starting Black Friday,” said Trish Gerken, executive director for Downtown Milford Inc. “January is typically the slowest month, so if we can support them during the holidays that will help them get through to the next holiday season.”

With holiday shopping beginning in earnest on Black Friday — the National Federation of Retail estimated that around 165.3 million people got out to shop over the holiday weekend — the sales didn’t only affect box stores, but had an impact local businesses throughout the state.

“I think a lot of us small businesses depend on the holiday season to kind of keep us going throughout the rest of the year,” said Lori Llewellyn, owner of My Roots, a boutique and hair salon in Dover.

Ms. Llewellyn said that the store had a relatively busy holiday season.

“Even today, we still had some hustle and bustle in here,” she said Friday. “So it’s been a really good holiday for us.”

Mikayla Paul, a manager for The Loocke in Dover, agreed, noting she’d see lines of people at the boutique and other stores in preparation for the holiday.

“It was awesome seeing all of [the customers] come down and support local businesses,” she said. “Loockerman Street, especially closer toward Christmas, was pretty packed.”

Ms. Llewellyn noted that during the prime shopping season, My Roots collaborated with The Loocke and Bel Boutique to host a “Desperate Dudes” night, which she called a “big success.”

“We stayed open late one evening and gift wrapped and helped select gifts for their ladies,” she explained.

Collaborating — and thinking outside of the box — was a theme for small businesses throughout the state to compete with online and brick-and-mortar giants.

“I think it’s very important [for small businesses to work together],” Ms. Llewellyn said. “This is the first time we collaborated on an event, and I think it was pretty successful.

Michiko Seto, owner of Blooming Boutique in Milford, said that the store participated in Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday to drive sales during the holiday, but they also focused on other opportunities for sales. On the winter solstice on Dec. 21, for instance, the store was open at 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., she said.

“You have to find your niche and you definitely have to do different things than you had to do 10 years ago as a small business for the holidays down here,” she said.

The shop owners noted that it’s an important time for them to do well.

“That’s really when we really kick in,” Ms. Seto said. “You can actually turn a profit in your store in November, from Black Friday on and that’s where a lot of us do finally make it for the year.”

Ms. Seto noted that while it may be easier to shop online, the pros of shopping local outweigh that.

“I think a lot of the younger generations don’t understand the ins and outs of small businesses and why it’s important to have in your own backyard, whether it’s jobs or having that service immediately right there,” she said.

Ms. Gerken noted that Downtown Milford Inc. hosted different opportunities to connect consumers to local businesses outside of Small Business Saturday, like through the Fall Market and the Holiday Stroll.

“Hopefully, the people will then remember when they saw the store to come back and shop there,” she said.

She also pointed out that shopping local enables consumers to purchase unique gifts.

“You’re not going to big box stores, you’re going to Gallery 37 and getting locally sourced artisan jewelry, or you’re going to Irish Rose, that’s the only Irish store in the state of Delaware,” she said.

Shopping local is also good for the community, she added.

“Sixty-seven cents of every one dollar you spend goes right back into the community,” she said. “We support them, they support us … Downtown is the heart of our town. When we have a vibrant downtown, that translates to a healthy community. We’re supporting our neighbors, our friends, by shopping locally.”