With many opting to shop online last year because of the pandemic, Durango’s brick-and-mortar stores are finding ways to incentivize holiday shoppers to purchase their gifts downtown.
For many of Durango businesses, the holiday shopping season is the financial bump in sales they need to carry them through the winter months.
Business Improvement District Executive Director Tim Walsworth said there is no substitute for the knowledge and experience that shopping locally offers residents.
“The experience you get when you go into a store and talk with a person who’s passionate and knowledgeable about the goods they’re selling is way different than what you experience online,” he said.
At YESS The Book Hutch, just off of Main Avenue, shop owner Terry Hutchinson offers customers 40 years of experience as an educator teaching children's literature.
“Grandparents who come in to buy books for holidays or birthdays will let me know what their grandchildren’s ages are, what things they like. ... I really have an understanding of where children’s reading needs are,” she said.
Hutchinson said sometimes she’ll get customers who browse through her store and ask for recommendations, but who will still end up buying their books online.
“They come into stores to look to see if that’s what they want, because online they can’t tell if that’s what they want,” she said. “They use our storefront to figure out what they want to order online.”
General Manager Shannon Redfield at The Sparrow Mercantile on Main Avenue said holiday shopping is hugely important to her business.
“People in Durango are really good about shopping locally, and that is so huge for us,” she said. “It’s what sustains us and gets us through the year when things slow down.”
Redfield said in-store shopping has inherent value, especially when seeing how an article of clothing might fit on someone.
“When people are in the store, we try to make suggestions, and be helpful,” she said. “We try to make sure people get the feel and the fit that they’re looking for.”
Walsworth said holiday shopping in late November and December can make or break businesses downtown.
“December has become either the top sales month or the No. 2 month for sales tax collection,” he said. “It flip-flops back and forth with July.”
Hutchinson said the November-December holiday shopping season is her biggest of the year.
“I can usually make up for three off-season months with my sales from Thanksgiving to the New Year,” she said.
The BID encourages shopping locally with a Holiday Rewards program for downtown businesses.
“We did do it last year, and we’ve actually done it a couple of times other than the holidays as well,” Walsworth said. “This will be the fourth time we’ve offered our rewards program.”
The rewards program offers downtown customers who submit their receipts a gift card to one of more than 20 different businesses downtown based on the amount they’ve spent. The more a customer can show they’ve spent downtown the higher the gift card amounts.
Customers who spend $100 will receive a $25 gift card, those who spend $300 get a $50 gift card and those who spend $500 get a $100 gift card.
“This promotion is designed to incentivize and reward people for making the choice to shop local as opposed to doing their shopping through some giant, faceless, online retailer,” Walsworth said.
Hutchinson said she offers discounts to returning customers to encourage shopping at her store.
Walsworth said keeping spending local has a multiplier effect that circulates through the local economy.
“It creates local sales taxes that fund services we all love,” he said. “A lot of the businesses you shop at work with other businesses, too. A lot of our restaurants will buy their goods from local farms and ranches. That kind of circulation does not happen when you shop online.”
Traditionally, Local First has hosted a downtown event known as Noel Night, where businesses offer deals and stay open later to encourage shopping locally. For the second year in a row, concerns about COVID-19 have stopped the consumer event.
However, about 80 businesses have banded together to host their own event, called Noel Nite, on Friday.
Hutchinson said all of her net proceeds from Noel Nite will go toward providing literature for disadvantaged children.
Redfield said The Sparrow is excited to bring back its Noel Night tradition of passing on savings to customers through a drawing from a Santa hat when they check out.
Walsworth said Noel Nite is a merchant-led effort that businesses are sponsoring on their own.
With COVID-19 still a concern, Walsworth said he encourages residents to shop local, but to take safety precautions.
“There are standard ways to keep yourself safe that we’ve learned throughout this pandemic. First and foremost is if you can get vaccinated you should be vaccinated,” he said. “The real simple things are to wear a mask if you’re in a business, and try to social distance.”
Walsworth said many local businesses have launched their own websites that residents can use to shop online and keep their spending local.