Chippewa Valley Small Businesses Stressed But Eager for Holiday Shopping Season
Valley business boosters plan promotions, contend for customers’ dollars
During the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic, countless folks around the Chippewa Valley – and nationwide – made conscious decisions to do their holiday shopping at small local retailers.
These choices helped buoy small businesses on the main streets in Eau Claire, Menomonie, and Chippewa Falls. Now, business owners and the groups that support them say that such choices are once again needed this holiday season.
“We want people to feel joyful and get into the spirit, but certainly know those local dollars spent on the local economy are really what we need to see right now to make a positive change for a lot of us,” said Erin Klaus of Eau Claire, whose dual roles gives her a unique perspective: She’s both co-owner of Tangled Up in Hue, a retail art collective on South Barstow Street, and communications and promotions coordinator for Downtown Eau Claire Inc., a nonprofit downtown-boosting group.
Amid the growing hustle and bustle of the pre-Christmas season, small businesses are “still feeling incredible stress,” Klaus said, not only because of the long-term impacts of the pandemic on the economy but also as a result of high inflation, which has impacted labor and product costs – not to mention hit potential customers’ pocketbooks.
To help lure shoppers away from online behemoths and big-box stores, downtown business groups are planning a number of celebrations and promotions in the coming months. For DECI, that includes the Haymarket Holiday event – formerly known as Wintertime in the City – on Saturday, Nov. 25, in downtown Eau Claire’s Haymarket Plaza, next to the Pablo Center at the Confluence. The event will run 11am to 3pm and will include a tree lighting, a chance for photos with Santa, free rides from the Chippewa River Trolley Co., and even the reading of an official city proclamation in support of small businesses by City Council President Emily Berge.
We want people to feel joyful and get into the spirit but certainly know those local dollars spent on the local economy are really what we need to see right now to make a positive change for a lot of us.
DOWNTOWN EAU CLAIRE INC.
The proclamation and the event will coincide with Small Business Saturday, a nationwide effort to promote shopping at small, brick-and-mortar retailers. That day will be marked by businesses elsewhere in the Valley as well. In Chippewa Falls, for instance, Small Business Saturday will be extended to encompass Friday and Sunday, too, with incentives for shopping small: For each $10 spent at downtown businesses, customers will receive a ticket to enter into a prize drawing, said Teri Oiumette, executive director of Chippewa Falls Main Street.
Oiumette said the seasonal outlook is positive in Chippewa Falls’ iconic downtown. As it has for many years, the Chippewa Falls Main Street organization is promoting a plethora of events, including Santa’s Arrival on Nov. 24, the Bridge to Wonderland Parade and After-Party on Dec. 2, as well as Horse Drawn Wagon Rides throughout December (the tickets for which sold out almost immediately). Meanwhile, Deer Widows Saturday – a social media promotional event held for the first time last year – will return Saturday, Nov. 18, with 20 participating businesses offering deals.
Oiumette said business owners are upbeat about the coming season. “I’ve had four different businesses expand in the past six months, just downtown,” she said. “You can never predict how things are going to go, but people seem optimistic.”
Nationwide, spending on the holidays is expected to increase by 3% to 4% over last year, the National Retail Federation said in early November as part of its annual end-of-year forecast. That would put Americans’ spending from Nov. 1 to Dec. 31 between $957 billion and $967 billion. Yes, you read that correctly: Americans will spend nearly $1 trillion during the holiday season (not including expenditures at gas stations, restaurants, or auto dealers).
"(Downtown businesses) generally are very excited about this holiday season. There's a lot of negative things happening in the world, so I think they're all excited to get into the season of joy and giving."
Executive director of Downtown Menomonie Inc.
The forecast growth rate is near the 10-year average but is far below pandemic-era figures: Holiday spending jumped 9.1% in 2020 and 12.7% in 2021, the industry group reported.
Becca Schoenborn, executive director of Downtown Menomonie Inc., said small businesses are gearing up for Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, as well as the annual WinterDaze parade and celebration on Dec. 7.
“They generally are very excited about this holiday season,” Schoenborn said of downtown businesses. “There’s a lot of negative things happening in the world, so I think they’re all excited to get into the season of joy and giving.”
According to a National Retail Federation survey released in October, online retailers remained the No. 1 holiday shopping destination for U.S. consumers, with 58% of shoppers saying they intended to spend money online. Roughly half (49% and 48%, respectively) said they will shop at department stores and discount stores, while just 24% intended to drop some of their holiday budgets at small businesses.
Downtown groups in the Chippewa Valley hope to make that final number a little bigger this season.
“This is the time of year to check out new small businesses if you haven’t already,” Schoenborn said. “It’s super important to support our small business owners. The majority of them live in this community, too.”