By STEVEN NALLEY
Multiple Starkville retailers are reporting strong returns from this year’s holiday shopping season, pointing to more citizens who keep their holiday shopping local and strong local advertising efforts as the catalysts.
Jennifer Gregory, vice president for tourism development with the Greater Starkville Development Partnership, said significant traffic was visible on Main Street and across downtown Starkville leading up to Christmas Day. As such, she said the GSDP predicted a strong holiday season for local retailers, and early numbers and reports from those retailers appear to confirm that prediction.
“We were able to gather from speaking to several retailers that this Christmas was a record season as far as sales for many of our retailers,” Gregory said. “As we have seen throughout this calendar year with the sales tax numbers we have received so far, we believe there is a climate of shopping locally in Starkville.”
Gregory said the increase came even though Starkville did not host the Egg Bowl on the weekend of Black Friday, as it did last year. While Black Friday itself saw much less local holiday shopping as a result, she said, the rest of the season made up for it.
“We think that many people shopped locally for Christmas gifts this season,” Gregory said. “We drew that conclusion based on reports from our retailers who knew many of their shoppers, but also just the continuance of a strong holiday season. Because December is not a huge month as far as tourism in Starkville, (it makes sense) that the majority of sales would be to local shoppers.”
To boost local sales, the GSDP brought back the Secret Santa program it launched in 2011, in which Starkville retailers displayed tags with Quick Response codes that shoppers could scan with their smart phones to reveal hidden discounts of 15, 20 or 25 percent. Secret Santa also lets the GSDP track how many shoppers are using it, Gregory said, providing the GSDP with a measure of the program’s growth.
Gregory said Secret Santa generated about 300 scans, a similar number to last year. She said she believes Starkville’s restaurants also boosted local retail by bringing in shoppers from other nearby towns.
“We think that we are most definitely a restaurant destination for the Golden Triangle,” Gregory said, “so we think many people that come to eat in Starkville will either stay late after lunch and shop or come a little bit early, before dinner, and shop at some of our local retailers.”
Rick Underwood, owner of Rick’s Furniture and Sprout, said sales traffic was strong at both stores. Shoppers also bought higher-end goods than before, he said, and he can attest that growing numbers of shoppers are coming to his stores from other cities within a radius of 50-75 miles.
“We know because we have to deliver,” Underwood said. “We’ve always had big business from the surrounding counties ... (but) we have seen a big increase in it. We’re picking up a lot more Columbus business.”
Carolyn Abadie, manager of the Campus Book Mart and Cafe, said popular items included “Elf on the Shelf,” MSU clothing items, educational toys and local author Michael Kardos’ “The Three-Day Affair.” She said she is grateful to the citizens who kept their holiday shopping local.
“We just saw a lot of our regular customers staying in town and bringing in their out-of-town company,” Abadie said. “We even had one person come in from Ridgeland and say that Starkville was a better shopping experience than Ridgeland, and they had done all of their Christmas shopping in downtown Starkville. They just found more unique gift items than in the city.”
Joe Brown, president of the Book Mart Corporation, said this year’s holiday shopping season was one for the record books.
“We haven’t got all the figures together yet, but we had a good Christmas,” Brown said. “We think it was probably the best Christmas we’ve ever had downtown.”
Anna Lea McKay, assistant manager at Deep South Pout, said sales were better this December than last year. Special sales each week proved helpful, she said, particularly early sales for popular stocking stuffers like scarves and jewelry.
“A lot of people who came in said they bought a lot of their gifts from Deep South Pout for their mothers or daughters,” McKay said, “Which makes me feel like they stayed in Starkville to do their shopping rather than go to Jackson or Tupelo or something like that.”
Elizabeth Regan, owner of B. Davis Shoes, said she had shoppers from Eupora, Ackerman, Louisville and other surrounding cities, many of whom were coming from out of town to visit with family. Sales peaked during the first week of December, she said, and one of the most popular stocking stuffers was, in itself, a different kind of stocking — SmartWool socks.
“Just from talking with several other business owners in my shopping center, I definitely feel like there was an increase in local shopping here as opposed to last year,” Regan said. “The Secret Santa sale the (GSDP) did really helped increase our sales this season. We’ve had a lot of extra business from that. We had a great holiday, we appreciated all the people shopping locally with us, and we’re looking forward to next year.”