Small Business Saturday

Anne Wiekamp Leth and her son, Isaac Leth, right, checkout their finds during Small Business Saturday on Nov. 30, 2019, at Real Deals in Rochester. (Traci Westcott /

Anne Wiekamp Leth said she tries to do all her Christmas shopping locally.

“And on Amazon,” her 10-year-old son, Isaac Leth, chimed in to her dismay.

The Rochester mother said the online retailer is only a last resort.

The pair spend part of Saturday morning searching for gifts at Real Deals, 525 Sixth Ave. NW, a locally owned shop featuring clothing and home decor in the Cooke Park Design District.

“We are out because they are doing a promotion, and we wanted to support them,” Wiekamp Leth said.

She said her reliance on online searches to fill her Christmas list has dropped in recent years, thanks to stores like Real Deals, which was observing Small Business Saturday. The Rochester native said supporting local businesses provides a good holiday feeling as she continued to shop for what ended up being several purchases.

In another part of town, Oronoco resident Andy Mallan shared similar support for ABC Toy Zone, 122 17th Ave. NW, in the Miracle Mile Shopping Center.

“We like this place, and the kids love it,” he said of the locally owned store, noting he supports it because it’s an asset to the local retail market.

At the same time, he acknowledged locally owned businesses weren’t the only stops of the day.

“We already made our Target run,” he said.

'So many unique things'

Many shoppers Saturday said they like a mix of what the smaller businesses can offer, even if larger stores serve as a backup source for some items.

“There are so many unique things here that they don’t have at big-box stores,” Eyota’s Karen Fink said of ABC Toy Zone as she made a second trip to the cash register with her daughter, 10-year-old Hannah.

Retailers said that’s their goal when it comes to preparing for the upcoming weeks.

“It’s just making sure we have the inventory that people will want for the holiday season,” Brad Vigesoa, an owner of Nerdin Out, 1802 Second St. SW.

It’s the third holiday shopping season for the retailer selling comics, toys, collectibles and video game, and Vigesoa said the store started seeing increased traffic in November, with an expectation of more this month.

Last year, December was one of the store’s best months since it opened in 2017, he said.

Fourth quarter comeback

Steve Nordhus, owner ABC Toy Zone, said the holiday season is crucial for his business.

“The fourth quarter is when we make more than three-quarters of our operating expenses,” he said.

While Black Friday and the following Small Business Saturday are seen as the traditional kick off for the season, he said the busiest days are yet to come. Starting Dec. 10, he said activity amps up.

He said Friday was a big day in the store and numbers dropped off a bit Saturday morning, likely due to weather conditions. At the same time, he said the shorter shopping season between Thanksgiving and Christmas is likely to provide an added rush.

“Every six years, we deal with that,” he said.

While Vigesoa and Nordhus have past years to use for comparison, other stores are experiencing their first holiday season.

“We have nothing to gauge it on yet,” said Amy Lorber, an owner at Figue, 1190 16th St SW Suite100.

The retailer that focuses on a variety of local food items and cooking merchandise is seeing an uptick of holiday interest. Local businesses have scheduled cooking classes for holiday parties, and Figue is planning holiday cheese boards and other party items.

“It’s such a learning experience for us to determine what people want,” said Lorber, who opened the specialty food shop with her mother, Linda Lorber, in September.

'Fun time to be in business'

Also new for holiday shoppers this year is On Track Boutique, 200 N. Broadway Ave., but owner Bruce Dahlstrom said he and his wife have some idea of what to expect since they are second-generation owners of Hers, a downtown retailer for 40 years.

At the same time, he said they are discovering the advantages of location as the new clothing boutique enters its first holiday season. Being located on Broadway, along with access to free parking, has attracted new customers, which provides a personal boost for the holiday season.

“It’s a fun time to be in business,” he said.

Ashley Moberg, owner of Real Deals, 525 6th Ave NW, echoed the sentiment, saying new customers can add to the festive nature of the season.

“It’s just a fun time of year in the shop,” she said.

At the same time, she said the holiday uptick helps retailers deal with what can be a downturn when wintry weather keeps some people home during January and February.

“The Christmas season can cushion the blow,” she said.

A different drummer

A few blocks away, Vy Thorng said he’s looking to see how holiday shopping will impact his new business, Hidden World Vinyl Records, 519 2nd Ave, NW, which offers a variety of new and used records and CDs.

He said the store, which has been open limited hours, is expanding hours this week to help attract business, but he specifically decided to close Friday on a day many retailers hope to see people starting their holiday shopping.

“I didn’t want to be part of that chaos,” he said of the first Black Friday since he opened.

Some shoppers spotted throughout the city Saturday agreed.

Mallan said his family avoided shopping the day after Thanksgiving, opting instead for what he hoped was a better experience on Saturday.

Karen Fink also noted Saturday’s shopping made for a good morning with her daughter.

“It’s mainly just Christmas shopping,” she said of the day’s goal.

“And fun,” Hannah Fink chimed in.

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