It’s a problem shared by communities around the continent, but thanks to what she describes as a change in public attitude combined with the recent shop local campaign aimed at increasing business in the city’s downtown, Lee said the trend seems to be shifting.
“I think the novelty of the big box stores are wearing off,” Lee said Friday from her shop. “It’s great to have those reasonably priced items but you start to realize that they are disposable items. We’re getting to the point of wanting something better.”
The shop local campaign was launched in November as a project of the Downtown Business Association. Dozens of signs were placed around the city, pointing the way to major downtown shopping areas such as West Street and Broadway.
Lee said she’s noticed a small spike in business since the campaign began, although she admits that even during the slowest periods she’s managed to grow her business gradually each year.
She said the secret for any local business is the personal touch provided to customers and the relationships fostered between business owners and their customers over the years.
Being situated on a tree-lined, bright street such as West Street, which she describes as the nicest in the city, only adds to the allure.
“That’s where the interesting people are, all the interesting little shops,” she said “It’s the best conversations you can have because it’s so diverse.”
See ‘TALKING ABOUT’ on page 2
“At least people are talking about the downtown ... they are noticing the Christmas lights and our signs. As long as we can keep that momentum up, that’s great ”
Just up the street from Joy’s shop is Cycle Solutions and Brewed Awakenings, businesses owned and operated by Peter Ollerhead.
Although he said it’s hard to tell if the recent campaign boosted business, in the 10 years he’s been operating the cycle shop he’s noticed most people will shop locally if the prices are competitive.
Since his shop tends to sell high-end cycling gear, Ollerhead said his customers are often well educated about the products they seek.
One of his priorities is becoming ingrained in the community.
“The more educated consumer respects that and they understand why they are spending money here,” Ollerhead said. “That in turn, has helped us out a lot. We drive our business by driving and supporting the community.”
He’s hopeful this extra effort will build loyality among customers and help balance the constant struggle small businesses face when competing against richer, more established chain stores.
“You’ve got to take part in building small business because big stores will always be there,” he said. “If you like the routine of having the shop store fronts downtown, that traditional feeling, that is super important to the existence of a community.”
According to Karen Matthews, executive director of the Downtown Business Association, the shop local signs will be removed in the near future.
The campaign, or at least a similar one, is expected to be re-launched next year.
Twitter: WS_Jamie Bennett