Editor's Note: Cascade Patch celebrates its first anniversary this month. This piece, by Janita Poe is today's "Our First Year" feature. It first ran on Dec. 3, 2010 and also is a tribute to Small Business Saturday.
While holiday shoppers began flooding department stores and shopping centers across the metro area this week, the small gift shops and boutiques in the Historic West End have remained relatively quiet.
Business owners and managers in The Mall West End and on Lee Street and Ralph David Abernathy Boulevard say shopping is never busy in their district during the start of the holiday season because the shops attract primarily lower-income buyers who put holiday buying off until a few days before Christmas.
"While the Lenoxes and Phipps malls are busy, we are slow," said Toriiey Ponder, assistant manager of Suna gift shop in The Mall West End on Oak St. "In the 17 years this shop has been open, its never been a big day after Thanksgiving."
National reports suggest the 2010 early shopping weekend this year was the busiest in the last few years. Retail sales on Black Friday saw a slight increase from $10.66 billion in 2009 to $10.69 billion in 2010, according to ShopperTrak, a research firm that tracks consumer buying and retail sales. Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is traditionally the start of the holiday shopping season.
Suna, Tre'Nita's, Oscar's and other West End stores that have survived for a decade or more at the mall may have limited exterior exposure but owners and managers of stand-alone businesses also said Black Friday and even Small Business Saturday-- the American Express-based shopping day targeting family-owned shops and other small stores--do not translate to higher sales for their operations.
"People tend to run to the malls because of the deals," said Margaret Adega, owner of Afro Centric Network, a shop that has sold clothing, art, soaps and other items in the West End for more than 15 years. "We have our loyal customers and they will come. It is just that they come in the last week."
Adega, who was born in Kenya and has lived in Atlanta for 28 years, had her store ready for the shopping season Saturday afternoon. A glass artist finished up holiday greetings on the exterior's front and, inside, Adega and her two assistants restocked shelves and displays. Adega said she would welcome a steady stream of shoppers from Thanksgiving to the end of Kwanzaa in early 2011 but she understands her clientele comes to her shop for one-of-a-kind gifts..
"We offer that specialized gift that nobody has," Adega said, "all of our gifts are handmade."
Down the street, Ezra Ben Israel, a manager at the The African Hebrew Israelites' Edenic book store, echoed Adega's sentiments about shoppers.
Ben Israel said small shops like his don't get heavy traffic because they cannot afford to advertise in major media or open in higher-end locations.
"A lot of people are unaware of us," Ben Israel said as he arrange a few holiday gift baskets on an outdoor sales table in front of his shop. "They don't know that we have all these items here."