Amazon vs. amazing Jackson, Valley businesses report strong start to holiday season

By on December 2, 2014
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Belle Cose welcomes shoppers on Town Square. MARY GROSSMAN

Jackson Hole, Wyoming – Lisa Roarke joked that she blacked out on Black Friday.

The manager at Made on Gaslight Alley was just as busy this past Monday as she was Friday evening, when Jackson Hole kicked off the holiday season by lighting up the Town Square.

“It was busy last year, but it was crazy this year,” Roarke said on Monday. “Black Friday was a good segue into Small Business Saturday. The weekend was nuts, but it was a lot of fun. Everyone did great. I didn’t spend any money on Black Friday, but I did run to the Bootlegger and they said they were just as busy, too.”

With the National Retail Association reporting sales down 11 percent this year on Black Friday, perhaps customers are shifting their focus from big-box stores to the shop around the corner.

Jeff Golightly, CEO and president of the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce, said that while he doesn’t have any firm numbers, shop owners he talked to this past weekend are indicating positive returns from the traditional start of the holiday shopping season.

Golightly said that two years ago, the chamber handed out $5,000 worth of American Express gift cards to shoppers to spend locally during the holiday season. American Express, founder of the national “Small Business Saturday” campaign, works to help communities like Jackson Hole promote locally owned businesses.

Golightly said that this time around, the chamber passed out only a little more than $600 worth of gift cards because that was all American Express had to offer this year, a sign that more communities are taking advantage of the company’s program.

“The national conscience is focusing on Small Business Saturday, and people are shopping locally,” said Golightly. “We had $625 [in gift cards] this year instead of $5,000 because that many more communities are signing up for the program. To me, it means that all over the country, people are starting to think about their local businesses.”

The chamber passed out 500 gift bags at the Town Square ceremony on Friday. Within 10 minutes, all the gift bags and gift cards were gone.

“The stats are that 72 cents on every dollar spent locally is recycled through the economy,” he continued. “Anybody can buy anyone a gift on Amazon, but it’s really cool to get something very Jackson-specific.”

Roarke agreed.

“I’m from Boston and we definitely had our smaller stores that we loved, but everyone in Jackson has a bigger sense of community,” she said. “It’s nice that we are not near a Target or Best Buy. There is a sense of community that people want to support the cute little stores here. I definitely think that people are moving away from big-box stores.”

But for some, Black Friday and Small Business Saturday, while great marketing ideas, don’t provide the truest sense of holiday spending trends. Tom Athey, marketing coordinator for Hoback Sports, said that in his line of business, it all depends on the weather.

“We’re feeling great with this early snow,” Athey said on Monday. “We went from bike season to ski boot season and the tune-up shop is looking really good. Black Friday is not the busiest day for us, but season pass holders now get a discount, so we’re seeing a lot of that traffic.”

Jackson Hole Mountain Resort purchased the valley stalwart in May.

“For us, the ski and bike industry is a little more isolated,” Athey said, adding that folks need to come into the store for ski boot fittings, and a tune-up is just not something a customer can order online.

“For us, it depends on the ‘powder farmer.’ The Village opened up pretty well and we saw lots of people getting excited for ski season, myself included. I felt busy,” Athey said.

In Teton Valley, Idaho, Black Friday action is typically delayed until the first Saturday in December, when the community hosts its annual holiday festival, which coincides with the Teton Valley Education Foundation’s “Shop for Schools” program.

“In the last year, I have heard from businesses that business is back,” said Dawn Banks, Teton Valley Chamber of Commerce president. “We’re seeing an uptick in business, and we’re slowly coming out of the recession with more of a focus on local shopping. I don’t think that Black Friday is that big of a deal here. The Teton Valley Education Foundation’s Shop for Schools is a really great alternative for Teton Valley. The Shop for Schools is big here.”

Teton Valley Education Foundation is a nonprofit that supports the public school system in the valley. As part of the foundation’s largest fundraiser for the year, local businesses will donate a portion of their sales this weekend to the effort. There are 42 businesses currently signed on to support the Shop for Schools program.

“A lot of people do the typical Black Friday in Idaho Falls,” said Teri McLaren, owner of the Local Galleria on Main Street in Driggs. “The pulse in Teton Valley, Idaho, is that people do hold out for that local shopping push.”

McLaren, who participates in the Shop for Schools program, said this year she has seen customers shopping earlier for the holidays, and they are conscious of supporting the local economy.

“It does take the whole community to join forces and come together to support one another, but that’s what we do,” McLaren said. “Nobody wants to see big-box stores and nobody wants Teton Valley to look like Every Other Town, USA.”

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