Foot traffic trumps online sales for Summit County businesses
The weather outside has been frightful, but for small-business owners like Mary Elaine Moore, it’s hardly made a dent in the holiday shopping bustle.
For nearly three decades, Moore’s wildly popular toy store, Stork and Bear Co., has been a fixture on Main Street in Frisco. The shelves are stacked with items made just for Christmas — think plush dolls, toy trains and science kits — but thanks to a dedicated corps of faithful customers, the holiday shopping season gets started as early as autumn.
This season, Moore saw the first holiday rush shortly after Thanksgiving. And she has hardly taken a break since.
“From Thanksgiving on, the traffic stays incredibly strong,” said Moore, who notes that the holiday rush often helps local businesses survive during the lean weeks of January and early February, when resort traffic dips. “It’s nice to have a big push at the end of the year. January is usually a bit slower because you’ve had this huge, wonderful holiday experience, but then it leads right into spring.”
Like the Stork and Bear crowd, a full month of shipping before Christmas is typical for the majority of American stores, spurred by early-season specials on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, both occurring in late November.
But shopping habits are changing, at least for the average American. For the first time, more than half of all shoppers will completely skip physical stores in favor of the virtual experience, according to an annual holiday shopping report released by Deloitte, a New York analytics firm. It comes down to the user experience: roughly 49 percent of shoppers avoid stores because of holiday lines, while 42 percent believe they can find better deals elsewhere.
Despite the widespread consumer trends, Summit County proves to be an outlier. Moore claims her online store sees a steady stream of traffic, but as a local business owner in a resort town, she believes the website is more useful for bringing people through her doors, not notching another faceless sale.
“Frisco Main Street has so many wonderful opportunities for shoppers,” Moore says. “The town has really promoted that over the years and it really has feet under it. This has been a good holiday.”
Location, location, location
Found a few blocks west of Stork and Bear is Shoe Inn Boutique, a 4-year-old shoe store that moved into a high-profile space on Main Street this summer. Shortly after moving, owner Shannon Murray noticed a major uptick in foot traffic and word-of-mouth visitors.
“I think anyone in Summit County will tell you December is one of the best months of the year,” says Murray, who also expanded the store’s inventory to include clothing when she moved to the new location. “It’s very important to do well during that month. There are so many businesses around here that rely on just a few months.”
The brand-new location has already proved to be a blessing. After a relatively slow start to December, Murray says business increased noticeably two weeks before Christmas.
It’s already her best holiday season on record, and she expects even more traffic during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day.
Like Moore, Murray credits at least a portion of the booming season to Main Street itself.
“I think Frisco has grown so much in the last few years as is, just in terms of people wanting to stop there and stay there and eat there,” Murray says. “It just feels like there are more people around Frisco in general and the town has done a good job drawing more people here.”
Just as shopping habits are shifting, the idea of location is also different than it once was. The Deloitte report shows that 72 percent of all shoppers will use smartphones while scouring the shelves this season, with 58 percent using their devices to locate stores as they go.
While Moore and Murray don’t boast the large, full-service Web stores of Macy’s or Target, both owners use location to attract shoppers in a slightly different fashion: Their stores are locally owned and, like many of their neighbors, stocked with gifts only found locally.
Murray carries shoe and clothing lines from a handful of Colorado designers, including recycled goods from Elisabethan in Paonia.
“Tourists come here because it isn’t just strip mall after strip mall,” says Corry Mihm, executive director for the small-business advocacy group Summit Independent Business Alliance. “The local character of businesses makes Summit County special and that’s a heartwarming kind of message to get behind. That really makes it special to live here, as well as to visit.”
For Moore, little pieces of feedback far outweigh a record-breaking Web store. She recently heard from a longtime customer and second-home owner who claimed her store added value to his property — for himself and his guests.
“People like the experience,” Moore says. “They really do, and I think more people are realizing they want to support their local merchants — they want the Main Street or their local area or anything to thrive. That’s part of why they live where they want to live, and for us, that’s Main Street Frisco.”
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