Local retailers hope big-box backlash will bring more shoppers

The winter shopping season is a big deal for retailers. And Black Friday may be the biggest deal of all. Which is why it may seem odd to learn that Mt. Airy retailers decided to skip it this year.


For more on “Black Friday” shopping in the business districts of Chestnut Hill, Manayunk, and Germantown view the photo slideshow above. To display captions click the full screen icon and show info. (Photography by Jennifer Swigoda for NewsWorks) 


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An alternative to the big box stores

The winter shopping season is a big deal for retailers. And Black Friday may be the biggest deal of all.


Which is why it may seem odd to learn that Mt. Airy retailers decided to skip it this year.


“When you ask people, ‘Why were you waiting in line at four o’clock in the morning?’ It’s not for an artist-made piece of jewelry,” said Sherman Oberson, owner of Jean Jacques gallery in Mt. Airy.

According to Oberson, Black Friday isn’t really meant for small stores that build their identities on small things you can’t find anywhere else, and you probably wouldn’t know to look for.


It’s for big stores, with big advertising budgets and big stocks of big-name merchandise.



Mt. Airy retailers


So in Mt. Airy, Black Friday isn’t a mad dash to find crazy deals at crazy hours of the morning. It’s not even an event in and of itself.


It’s more of a starting point for making the all-important December shopping season into something worth remembering, even savoring.


Merchants in Mt. Airy will try to make every Friday in December special with what they’re calling Late Night Fridays. Stores will be open until 8:00 p.m. or 9:00 p.m. Santa will visit the avenue and there will be live music and poetry readings.


The strategy here is so distinctly un-Black Friday that Mt. Airy didn’t even launch a big campaign aimed at shoppers for the day after Thanksgiving. 


Oberson thinks the pitch to soak up the quaint atmosphere of the avenue will play especially well with the out-of-town guests whom come to visit local friends and relatives over these next few weeks. 



Chestnut Hill retailers

Fran O’Donnell, owner of O’Doodle’s and main street manager for the Chestnut Hill Business Association, said the same ideas are circulating farther up the avenue.


“We like to call it ‘retail therapy,’” he said.


The business association is planning a series of “therapeutic events” in December designed to immerse customers in the avenue’s ambiance. These include the Holiday House Tour Saturday, December 4, Sundays with Santa December 5, 12 and 19, and the traditional Stag & Doe Nights with live music, caroling and roasted chestnuts December 8, 15 and 27.


Avenue shoppers on Black Friday seemed to prove Oberson and O’Donnell right. 


Shoppers experience

Michael and Melody Smulders were in town from Connecticut visiting Janice Graber of Mt. Airy on Friday. As they strolled the street in Chestnut Hill, Michael said, “Our mission is to stay away from Black Friday people.” 

“We’re just going to specialty stores for one of a kind items,” Melody agreed.

Beth McLaughlin and her mother Iona of Long Island were visiting family in Plymouth Meeting and said they drove to Chestnut Hill just to get away from the mall out there.

“Instead of going to the mall we’re coming downtown,” Beth said. They said they weren’t hunting bargains, but instead “unique gifts.”


Ambiance and selection only produce so much in sales, though. Neither neighborhood was busy on Black Friday. “Retail therapy” takes time. 

But O’Donnell thinks it’s already working.  When local residents see business working hard to promote community events, he thinks they become more than customers. They become partners.

“It’s pretty cool when you have customers who want you to do well,” he said.

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