Businesses prep for holiday rush

Mary Bright sorts ornaments in The Sparkly Pig in downtown Lenoir City.

With the largest retail event of the year looming this week, small business owners in Loudon County are preparing for what could be a few make-or-break days.

While large chain stores are typically packed for Black Friday, small business owners are looking forward to Small Business Saturday and encouraging shoppers to buy local.

“We do a lot of business in November and December, and ours is no different,” Mary Bright, The Sparkly Pig owner, said. “We always have a peak on sales in November and December, and I think this year we’re going to see it even be a little more drastic of a peak just because I’m talking to people when they’re coming in and they’re basically telling me, ‘I’m enjoying shopping the smaller shops this year where there’s not crowds’.”

Greer’s Home Furnishings in downtown Loudon will feature various sales.

“We typically seem to go on a cycle where on Black Friday, a lot of Loudon County consumers end up going to the big box stores or the malls,” Bo Carey, Greer’s owner, said. “They end up getting around to us independent retailers at the end of the day, but what I’ve really appreciated about our Loudon County Chamber of Commerce and the merchant groups is they’ve really pushed the Small Business Saturday as an alternative. What we hear from our shoppers, especially the ones that have moved into here from out of state, is they really want to buy local, they really want to shop with independent retailers.”

Clothing and shoe retailers could experience a boon as colder temperatures begin to settle in.

Cedar and Twine, a women’s clothing boutique in downtown Lenoir City, will have exclusive deals on hats, dresses, shirts and more.

“We’ve only been open a year and so last year was our first Black Friday and Small Business Saturday, which are definitely two of our biggest days of the year that we bring an income to help us out during the slow season,” Caitlin Hawk, Cedar and Twine owner, said. “Last year we kind of learned that we need to get some newer items in before Black Friday. We have sales going up to like 70% off. Our customers tell us all the time that they can’t find a lot of our stuff in large stores. We have eclectic pieces from California or Nashville, and so I think we’ve kind of had people kind of buy into the vision.”

Foothills Boots in Tellico Plaza will be closed for Black Friday but open Saturday.

“We pick up the minute there’s a cold snap it seems, and so we’re looking forward to just increase,” Carolton Hendrix, Foothills owner, said. “We’re just looking to steadily increase, and we’re happy about the numbers that we see. We don’t do Black Friday because years ago, I was in the store six days a week. We’re not open on Black Friday because we’re closed for Thanksgiving because there’s me and a part-time employee.”

For some owners, the past eight months have required a leap of faith.

“At the beginning of all of this it was just like the bottom had fell out, but God is good,” Hendrix said. “We started to come back and stayed open the whole time. I prayed and he said, ‘Trust me,’ and so I did. It’s been a ride, but we’re doing all right. I know that sometimes that it’s not a real popular perspective, but I have always prayed when it comes to anything to do with this store. The Lord has taken good care of us when I know a lot of people have had a much harder time, but I can look at it and I know that we’re not anything special ... but the bottom dropped out and (God) said, ‘Trust me.’ We’re bouncing back and it’s even better than this time last year.”

The holiday shopping season could not come at a better time for small business owners as they’re working to bounce back from financial difficulties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In light of social-distancing guidelines and viral spreading concerns, small businesses will have advantages over larger retailers.

“We have those one-of-a-kind, unique items,” Bright said. “Those items that you’re not going to see just like it. The uniqueness is one thing, and then the different atmosphere, it’s just an easygoing, relaxing atmosphere that people can take their time and don’t feel pushed. That makes a big difference for small businesses.”

“We may have three or four couples in our store at one time and the same with other shops and boutiques and even in the downtown restaurants, but I think we’re ahead of (large retailers) on that and promoting a pre-Black Friday,” Carey added. “I think the clothing stores, the boutiques, the antique stores and the small businesses on Broadway and downtown Lenoir City are definitely presenting an advantage to Loudon County shoppers as a safe place to shop.”