Shoppers challenged to head downtown

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Capital News Service
LANSING – With the start of the holiday season, small businesses across the state are coming together to get their piece of the holiday spending pie.
Holiday spending “continues to be a really crucial part of making a profit for the entire year,” said Michael Rogers, vice president of communication for the Small Business Association of Michigan (SBAM).
Tom Scott, vice president of communications for the Michigan Retailers Association, said, “Industry-wide, it probably accounts for about 20 percent of sales for the year.”
For retailers that sell merchandise such as toys, games and gifts, that percentage could be as high as 40 percent, Scott said.
That’s why SBAM, Michigan Municipal League, Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) and downtowns are participating in a program called the “ShopMIDowntown Holiday Challenge,” Rogers said.
The program encourages shoppers to do 75 percent of their holiday gift shopping in their own downtowns rather than in big stores, malls or online, he said.
The idea came from Sparta, which challenged its residents to do all their holiday shopping there this season, said Joe Borgstrom, director of the STARS revitalization division of MSHDA.
“Eighty-five to 95 percent of downtown businesses are independently and locally owned,” Borgstrom said. “We’re hoping to raise their awareness.”
Shoppers who post a picture or video of themselves shopping at downtown businesses are automatically entered into a drawing for a free overnight stay at one of five Main Street establishments, MSHDA said. Participants are the Doherty Hotel in Clare, Ramsdell Inn in Manistee, National House Inn in Marshall, Water Street Inn in Boyne City and Courtland Carriage House Bed & Breakfast in Hart.
The challenge lasts until Dec. 31, Borgstrom said. So far, it has 784 fans on Facebook, and 83 photos were submitted as of Nov. 22.
“We’re huge fans of downtown,” said John Hankerd, chair of the Owosso Main Street Board and a small business owner himself. “We try to shop locally.
“We understand you can’t find everything downtown, but we try to do that first,” he said.
Holiday spending can make or break some downtown businesses, Hankerd said. Some merchants have already gotten comments about the challenge, but a lack of awareness about the program has impaired shopper participation.
That’s why Hankerd’s business printed shirts for downtown merchants, he said.
SBAM’s Rogers said, “Shoppers are looking for interesting and rewarding holiday experiences. You don’t get that online at Amazon or fighting the crowds.
“What we’re hearing from small businesses across the state is that they are cautiously optimistic about this holiday season,” Rogers added.
Businesses are working together to provide decorating, advertising and billboards to raise awareness, he said. They want people to remember that there are a lot of local stores.
Owosso’s Hankerd said about 50 businesses downtown wired the Christmas lights on their storefronts together for a nightly light show. Stores stay open later to draw people who come to see the show, he added.
“They’re all very optimistic,” Hankerd said. “They’re expecting to be up 10 percent from last year.”
The Retailers’ Tom Scott said “Fifty-eight percent expect a better holiday season than last year.”
Averaged among all retailers’ projections, sales should increase about 6 percent this season, Scott said.
“We haven’t seen a number like that since 2004,” he said.
A strong holiday season also means more revenue for the state from sales tax, said Terry Stanton, public information officer for the Department of Treasury.
“We always go into a holiday season looking for strong results,” he said.
© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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