Store owners in downtown Lenoir City and Loudon mostly found the 2019 holiday shopping season was kind.
Bo Carey, owner of Greer’s Home Furnishings and The Shoppes on the Square, pointed to sales being about 40 percent higher during the three-day period of Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday than the same time in 2018.
“We promoted harder, but I just think our merchandise selection was better,” Carey said. “I think people were in a shopping mood, and I give credit to the local clientele who — especially in Tellico Village — who really told us, ‘We want to shop local,’ and that’s sort of the theme of Small Business Saturday is shop local. Shop with your small town.
“I think our merchants, not just here in Loudon, I know in Lenoir City ... the merchants in Lenoir City were really playing up Small Business Saturday and that’s good,” he added. “What was refreshing, in the past on Black Friday it seems like people go sort hit it hard at the big-box stores and then we don’t get ours ... until Saturday. This time our Black Friday was probably stronger than our Small Business Saturday, and that was a very welcome development, and then on Monday we did great again.”
Carey credited shoppers who “don’t want to fight the Knoxville traffic and the parking issues and the rat race.”
Holiday shopping was strong through the month except Dec. 7 when Loudon County Education Foundation’s Run LoCo marathon resulted in road blocks that prevented customers from getting to stores, Carey said.
“It was the biggest drop-off from one Saturday to the next that we’ve ever had,” he said. “And I support the cause. We want to support the education foundation, but I hope in the future they’ll route it differently, they won’t try to cripple our business during the holidays when it’s prime shopping time. ... We had strong business the day before on Friday and then on that Saturday we might as well have not been open because customers couldn’t get to us.”
The Shoppes on the Square saw minimal improvement from last year, but Carey said that could be because the store had a strong 2018.
“I think most of the merchants had smiles on their faces throughout the holidays,” he said. “We got a new restaurant in town and I think they added a little bit to the excitement, Tommy’s Grill on Grove, and that brought a little bit of a new element. I know that we’ve got sort of a new merchants group that’s a new organization, and they all seemed upbeat. Nobody’s shared any numbers with me, but I think they were — everybody was decorating. We saw pretty good foot traffic up and down the street.”
Darren and Bridgit Lawson, co-owners of Personal Space Creations, saw good customer traffic in their first holiday season. The store opened in August.
“We’ve been working for a stronger Loudon,” Bridgit Lawson said. “The newly reformed Loudon Merchants and Property Owners (Association), LMPOA, has a lot to do it with it because all of the new businesses here seem to be working together to be drawing people to Loudon and making this a destination for people to get good quality products.”
In Lenoir City, business owners echoed the theme of holiday shopping success.
Markets on Broadway has been under new ownership for six months, with Mike and Paige DeFreece taking over earlier this year. Meagan DeFreece, the couple’s daughter, manages the store.
“It’s been really good,” Meagan DeFreece said. “It’s hard to gauge since we weren’t here last year, but we get a lot of customers come in and talk about how much this area has grown and how they’re so excited to see everything reviving down here.”
Sales saw gains “a lot” in November and December, but since October she estimated they nearly doubled.
“I think downtown has done a lot of work to get out the word that there is shopping down here because we hear a lot of customers come in that say they live within a mile and they didn’t know this was all down here,” Meagan DeFreece said. “So they see ads out in the newspaper, they’ve seen work being done and it’s made them curious to see what’s going on down here. ... They’ve really worked to do ads as a group where all of the stores will do a full spread so people can really see the variety that’s down here. They know they’re not just coming down here for one shop. They know there’s going to be 10 shops that they can hit.”
Dale Creelman, who operates Papa Dale’s Trading Post, has been downtown for four years and has seen the transformation with Lenoir City’s streetscapes project.
“People have to have a reason to come downtown,” Creelman said. “We need more food businesses, but yeah, the improvements downtown have temporarily hurt businesses. I know it hurt me when I was over there (near B Street) when they were doing the sidewalks. In the long term (it’s for the best).”
Sales likely doubled from the same time last year, he said.
“I’ve had an extremely good holiday season,” Creelman said.