Ladies Afternoon Out a targeted theme

Mary Bright, Sparkly Pig co-owner and Historic Downtown Lenoir City Merchants Association president, sets up Valentine’s Day-themed refreshments for Ladies Afternoon Out.

Since COVID-19 put many events on hold, the Historic Downtown Lenoir City Merchants Association hosted Thursday the first Ladies Afternoon Out of the year.

From 2-6 p.m., patrons visited a variety of shops in downtown Lenoir City for shopping, giveaways and refreshments.

Mary Bright, Sparkly Pig co-owner and association president, said the theme was a spin-off of Ladies Night Out, a recurring summer event the association hosts. Both efforts attempt to draw the public to downtown storefronts in hopes of boosting business.

“We usually have some specials, things on sale,” Bright said. “We have usually a giveaway. Sometimes we have a coupon. It depends on the store. Each store does what they would like to do. Then we do refreshments. A lot of times we will do maybe cheese and wine. Today, we’re doing a valentine promotion, and it’s themed on Valentine’s Day.

“It’s just a great opportunity to bring, whether it’s ladies — it doesn’t have to be ladies only,” she added. “It can be ladies and men. But it brings them downtown to see what we’ve got going on downtown, to see what new shops we have, to see what new merchandise people are carrying.”

Bright rents booths at the Sparkly Pig, so the store’s merchandise changes often. Bringing people downtown gives her and other store owners a chance to display new items.

She hopes to grow the effort into a more regular occurrence.

“With it being winter, we felt it gets darker early, and it’s cold,” Bright said. “We would have a harder time pulling people out to shop, so we did the afternoon. I hope that we’ll just continue to have it become a bigger and bigger promotion and something that people look forward to — coming downtown and shopping.”

The plan is to get the entire merchants association involved.

“I don’t think there’s anyone who’s not participating,” Bright said. “It is obviously optional. It is a program that there’s probably some stores it’s not real conducive to. I don’t know that the hardware store would be one that would pull a lot of traffic in on a ladies afternoon. Although they have things that are very home, gift-type things. They certainly could benefit also from having more and more ladies come in there and shop. Otherwise, it’s really just all of the merchants down here.”

For Susan Indranoi, Sadie’s Boutique owner, last week was a way to bring attention to small businesses.

“It brings awareness,” Indranoi said. “It just puts a light on us as a small business. People are wonderful because they just want to support the mom-and-pop shops. I hear that all the time, ‘We’re here because we want to support you,’ which is a huge blessing for all of us down here. We just have a lot of loyal customers. People just want to support us, and people want to come in for something different, and they feel like they’re going to get it here or downtown here in general.

“… They want us to stay here. I hear that all the time,” she added. “It just saves them from having to go into Knoxville. It’s been truly a blessing down here.”

Jennifer Wampler, Lenoir City councilwoman and Sparkly Pig co-owner, emphasized building up the city, especially downtown. She wants to bring traffic from U.S. Highway 321 to downtown so shops can thrive.

Tax dollars from the event are also a way to build the community.

“Anytime that you have an event, especially focused on the downtown, I think it just makes everybody — well, it’s much more personal,” Wampler said. “Let’s just say when you go to your downtown and you shop and you spend your money, you’re going to have a totally different experience than if you go to Knoxville or to Turkey Creek. It’s a sense of neighborhood. You’ll actually know the people that you’re shopping with and you develop a relationship with them. That, of course, builds on the sense of community.”