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Local retailers, businesses note mixed results for biggest shopping weekend of the year

PHOTO COURTESY OF SHEDCO - Shoppers and vendors mingle at a Columbia County Shop Small event at Columbia River Reception and Events at Meriwether Place on Saturday, Nov. 24. The event allowed small businesses without storefronts to have a physical location to sell goods during the busy holiday shopping weekend. Between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday this year more than 165 million Americans shopped online and in person nationally, on average spending $313, according to data from the National Retail Federation.

Data from the 2018 Small Business Saturday Consumer Insights Survey from American Express and the National Federation of Independent Business show that consumers spent $17.8 billion at independent retail outlets nationally as well.

Locally, merchants reported mixed results for the start of the holiday shopping season. Some businesses, vendors and economic development groups reported success with steady consumer traffic, while others experienced a slower start to the shopping season and fewer shoppers compared to last year.

For the second year in a row, Keep It Local Columbia County and the St. Helens Economic Development Corp., along with numerous business sponsors, partnered to host a shop local event at the Columbia River Receptions and Events at Meriwether Place in St. Helens on Saturday, Nov. 24.

The event was intended to provide small business owners who don't have their own storefronts a place to sell their goods during the holiday shopping blitz. SHEDCO, which partners with the American Express-sponsored Small Business Saturday, also participated in the event.

Amanda Normine, SHEDCO's vice chair, said the economic development nonprofit handed out 185 Small Business Saturday tote bags to shoppers in just a few hours. Normine also traveled to various St. Helens shops to reward random shoppers with gift certificates and coupons that could be redeemed at local businesses.

"They were getting treated for shopping local with more shopping local," Normine noted.

Natasha Parvey of Keep it Local Columbia County said shopper turnout for this year's shop local vendor event was double last year's, with more than 385 shoppers coming through the doors. Twenty vendors sold goods at the event, including a new food cart from St. Helens.

"The majority of vendors that did it last year came back," Parvey said. "Someone from just about every city in the county was represented there."

Some business owners with brick-and-mortar operations said they experienced average or below average holiday business over the weekend, with a slight bump on Saturday.

Shannon Vaerewyck of Bertucci's Chocolates in St. Helens said she saw less traffic in her store on Columbia Boulevard leading up to the holiday weekend, but did welcome more shoppers on Saturday. Most customers who came in made purchases as well, she noted.

"We had people in, and not too many lookie-loos. For the most part everybody bought something," Vaerewyck said, adding that overall traffic was on par for last year.

In Scappoose, Cathy Cook said she got an unexpected flurry of Black Friday shoppers at her pet supply store, All About Pets.

"I was shocked that we did better on Black Friday when people normally go into Portland, and we were busy through Sunday," Cook said. All About Pets offered a $5 off coupon in the Spotlight newspaper and promoted its upcoming sales and special events via Facebook.

Cook figures the buzz around the busiest shopping weekend of the year was enough to implore shoppers to check out local deals at small retailers.

Her business typically participates in Small Business Saturday, but the shop's usual boon falls closer to its annual holiday pet photo day in December.

"It was a good Saturday, I wouldn't say it was exceptional," she noted. "Our sales don't usually really get going until the second week or so in December."

Jennifer Leal of Lady J's Boutique in St. Helens said business has been unusually slow over the past few months, though the Saturday push to shop local did bring in a more steady stream of customers.

"To be honest with you, it's been extremely slow," Leal said. "Usually it slows down after Christmas when people realize they've overspent,

but it's never really been like this."

Ace Hardware in Scappoose also saw an influx of shoppers looking for everything from tools to gifts to holiday decorations.

"It did seem busier this year," Debbie Jorgensen, the store's assistant manager, noted of the shopping weekend. "We sell lights and we had good gift items for sale here, so I think people were just out shopping for everything."

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