A wave of optimism filled the air on a lively holiday shopping weekend. While all the numbers are not yet tallied, business owners and leaders in Evanston said they felt shoppers were out and about.

Fabrics on display at Sew on Central at 1937 Central St. Credit: Manan Bhavnani

“It was extremely successful. The reports came in that said our businesses are really supported by our community,” Angela Shaffer, executive director of the Central Street Evanston business district said.

“It seems the foot traffic was up from last year, but we’re still down from pre-pandemic levels,” said Annie Coakley, executive director of the Downtown Evanston district. Evanston’s downtown has mirrored other big cities in that it has been slower to recover than the city’s other business districts from the pandemic drops.

More people expected to shop Saturday

It was predicted there would be more foot traffic on Small-Business Saturday than Black Friday.

People were also looking to see if in-store shopping rebounded. Adobe Analytics reported that despite inflation fears, shoppers spent an online record of $9.12 billion on Black Friday.

“Everybody’s looking to save a little bit,” Coakley said. Despite that, she added, the community is committed to supporting local businesses with in-person sales.

With consumers’ pockets strained, there is a greater demand for deals, discounts and offers. Economists, business organizations and retail store owners were watching the trends this weekend hoping to see what it bodes for the holiday shopping season, particularly in light of the current inflation picture.

Coakley added that Downtown Evanston offered a $30 Evanston gift card to the first 80 people who spent $100, with gift cards being quickly snatched up.

Store-owners buoyed

Mari Barnes, the owner of Notice, a women’s clothing store at 2112 Central St., said they were consistently busy throughout the day. Barnes said Saturday was “a highly successful business day.” 

A jacket made by children as part of the sewing workshop at Sew on Central. Credit: Manan Bhavnani

Other store owners agreed.

“People enjoy Central Street. This is a great place to shop,” said Karen Graham, owner of Sew On Central. The store, which opened in 2018, sells fabric and patterns and sewing supplies and also offers sewing classes.

The area gets plenty of foot traffic, Graham said, as “there’s something for everyone.” The 2.1-mile stretch is home to a number of businesses, ranging from galleries to apparel stores, cafes and barbershops. Some of the businesses have been around for 50 years.

Graham said the store’s sewing workshops draw customers in droves, especially children. She added a number of children come in for sewing classes on a weekly basis.

Business owners are also reeling from inflation as well as supply chain issues and labor shortages, according to the National Federation of Independent Business. Graham said her business saw a 25% increase in the cost of a spool of thread, a key raw material.

However, “we’re trying not to raise prices too much” on the consumer end, she said.

Shoppers outside Lois & Company. Credit: Manan Bhavnani

Despite the crunch, Graham said business has been good, particularly with parents and grandparents buying gifts for their children or grandchildren. To Graham, an event like Small Business Saturday holds great significance.

“As a small business owner, it puts the emphasis on shopping local,” she said. She added that the Evanston community is keen to support local businesses.

For Lois Combs, owner of boutique store Lois & Company, small business Saturday “is a good start to the holiday season.” The store, which opened in 1992, has deals ranging from 20 to 30% off – but just for today.

The holiday period brings her joy, Combs said, as “Evanston is supportive of small businesses.”

Shoppers want to support local

Amid the economic uncertainty, however, shoppers remain split. Even as “things are more expensive now,” for longtime Evanstonian Sandy Taylor, her holiday outlay stayed about the same. Taylor, who’s retired and has lived in the city for three decades, said her spending would likely be more if she had a big family.

Spices on display at The Spice House, 1941 Central St. Credit: Manan Bhavnani

Meanwhile, couple Ashley and Rob Pearce, both Evanston residents, said they were being more selective with purchases.

“People are struggling, businesses are struggling, so it’s important to support independent stores that often have unique products,” Ashley said. She added they bought some Christmas cards from Paper Source, 2100 Central St., which specializes in gifts, cards and personalized stationery.

On Central Street, holiday shopping drives kick off sooner compared to other districts in the region. The move, introduced last year, “gives people more time to manage finances,” Central Street Evanston’s Shaffer said.

Following Black Friday the day before, more small businesses offered deals on Saturday, which added to the weekend turnout.

“Every year we get a little bit more involvement from our businesses,” she said.

Some businesses, like The Spice House, 1941 Central St., which opened in Evanston in 1957, remain less vulnerable to economic shocks. The vendor sells premium rubs, salts and spice mixes.

Clothes on display at Gracie’s, 1939 Central St. Credit: Manan Bhavnani

While costs have gone up, the business has grown, an employee at the store said. He said the store’s customers are after high-quality ingredients, which has helped weather economic pressures.

Nearby outlet Gracie’s, 1939 Central St., which sells women’s apparel, gifts and pillows, has a similar story.

“People are not as sensitive when it comes to fashion,” said Nell Funk, a sales associate. She added the “user-friendly” nature of the store draws shoppers.

“We’re happy,” she said, during a busy period and a packed store earlier in the day.

Manan Bhavnani

Prior to joining the RoundTable, Manan Bhavnani covered business and technology for the International Business Times, with a focus on mergers, earnings and governance. He is a double Medill graduate, with...

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