Christmas decorations showed up in stores before Halloween this year, but Black Friday is still the official start of the Christmas shopping season. And the competition is already getting intense, with big box stores opening at midnight and online retailers planning to lure customers out of lines with fierce mobile campaigns.
So how about Main Street — or in our case, Church Street, Bloomfield Ave., Valley Road and Maplewood Ave.? Do indies have a chance?
Well yes, says Luther Flurry, interim executive director of Montclair Center Business Improvement District (BID). “If you want to be up at midnight or eat greasy mall food, if you have nothing to do Thanksgiving night than stand in line, we’re not the place,” he says. On the other hand, if you want a “beautiful, unique setting, with dozens of relaxing, delicious places to take a break,” Montclair shopping is the ticket.
As he’s repositioning the battle between Malls and Main Street by pointing out that they’re offering completely different things. “A lot of what we sell is not available in the mall,” he says. BID has put up a page listing the stores and restaurants and salons participating in Montclair’s Black Friday, with many of the specials they are offering.
Julie Doran, manager of the Maplewood Village Alliance, points out that spending local comes back to the community. “For every $100 spent in local, independently owned businesses, $68 comes back into the local community through taxes, payroll and other expenditures,” she says. The same sum spent in a national chain yields just $43 coming home, she says, and online shopping: nothing at all. “That highlights how important locally owned businesses are to the vibrancy of our community.”
In both towns, stores are opening earlier, staying open later, and offering promotions. Maplewood’s independent movie theater is showing movies beginning at 10 a.m., “for the non-shoppers in your group,” says Doran.
Here’s a sampling of what a few local stores are doing to compete.
Sports Authority may be offering “Bonus Bucks” to the first 80 people in line at 5 a.m., but Fleet Feet Sportshas a staff made up entirely of runners. It is offering gifts too, including a free hat, but the best gift would be having shoes that won’t hurt later Fleet Feet is located at 603 Bloomfield Avenue in Montclair.
Lisa Johnson, owner of Culture Couture in Montclair, says her prices are competitive with mall stores, but it’s the quirky merchandise that keeps customers coming back. “We try to make sure we have things that are a little different, that you can’t find in any store, and you won’t see everybody else wearing,” Johnson says. People come on Black Friday “to not get trampled, who don’t want to deal with the stress at the mall.” Like many of the store owners, she points out the service when you shop locally: “We remember who our customers are. We know their size, and what they’re looking for.” Culture Couture is at 53 Church Street, and will be open from 9:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. on Friday.
Hopscotch at Home, a boutique that sells kidss toys, furniture and gifts in Maplewood, will have an Early Bird Special from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. with 20 percent off throughout the entire store — and free coffee. Their handpainted toy chests and sweet dolls are so adorable you might have to borrow a child. Then again, the argyle clipboard seems like a must for grown ups. A Hopscotch at Home is located at 174 Maplewood Avenue.
Aunt Jean’s Toys and Treats is offering a variety of discounts, including 25 percent off Playmobil from noon to 6 p.m. on Friday. And the first 10 people to use the new giftwrap service will get it free of charge. But the real reason to go in, says owner Jeannette Lauture, is the service. “We ask many many questions to get you the perfect gift for that person. We spend a lot of time with our customers, and show you things that you don’t even think of.” I test this out, since I have a 14-year old nephew and a 10 year-old niece. And sure enough, she tells me about something I haven’t heard of– that would be a hit, I think. Spooner Boards. “It’s a skateboard/surfboard; you can do tricks like you would on a skateboard.” She’s on her third order of the popular toy, and has sold it to adults as well. For my niece, she suggests a feather that can be clipped onto the hair, or origami jewelry. The store is located on 12 North Willow Street, which she says is lit up more this year than ever before. From Thanksgiving until the 23rd, the store will be open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Johari, a lingerie store, is offering 20 percent off everything, and a free gift worth $25 for any purchase over $100. Deborah Furr says her prices are the same as in department stores, but “we have a better selection in terms of sizes. We work with each customer to make sure they are fitted in the proper size.” She’s also offering swimwear for those planning to travel over the holidays. But can she compete with Victoria’s Secret? “They don’t fit, and their quality is not as good,” she says. Johari is located in the Montclair Center at 465 Bloomfield Avenue.
Restaurants and salons are also participating in the shopping spree. The Health, Love and Soul Juice Bar and Grill might be just the thing to refresh and restore. The restaurant has branches in Maplewood and Montclair. Wheat pancakes are on the menu but so are salmon tilapia and bison burgers. They’ll be offering 20 percent off on Friday. If you need a pick-me-up after all that shopping, you might try “Vitamin Awesome,” a mixture of ginger, kale, carrot and apple. Sounds good to me.