Chestnut Hill retailers compete with the malls by celebrating small town feel

Scores of consumers lined the streets on Wednesday night in downtown Chestnut Hill. Some were there to buy last minute gifts for loved ones, others to enjoy the complimentary wine and treats offered in many stores; all enjoyed the festive atmosphere.

Carolers entertained crowds as they weaved in and out of shops, and even Santa Claus was spotted making the rounds and bringing smiles to eager youngsters. Stag and Doe Nights, a 30-year Chestnut Hill tradition, was on its third and final night.

What began as an effort specifically to draw male shoppers has evolved into a unique shopping experience for entire families.

Lisa Street of Gladwyne brought her husband to Chestnut Hill after shopping on Germantown Ave last week.

“We’re enjoying the atmosphere,” Lisa said, “I picked up a couple of things last week, this week is just for fun.”

Crowds of people strolled Germantown Ave. peeking into stores, but no one seemed as stressed as the last-minute shoppers one may see in a crowded mall.

Michael Hlatky walked outside of Mango with wife Christine and son Felix, 2. The Manayunk couple stopped to greet Santa.

“We don’t ever go to malls,” Michael said sternly, “it is unique, the shops, the atmosphere, it’s quaint. It’s not as crazy as the malls.

Chestnut Hill’s unique take on Small-town, USA was a major draw for many. The less chaotic shops along Germantown Ave. provided a personalized experience that many merchants along the avenue echoed.

Ginny Ashenfelter and husband Lew have owned and operated The Happy Butterfly for the last 28 years. The close-knit community is what drew the Virginia-born couple to the area. They sell handcrafted gifts geared toward children and pride themselves on providing patrons with a personalized experience that is unavailable at a busy mall or online.

“That’s how we grew up,” Ginny said, referring to the one-on-one time she provides for her customers.

As the tide of customers, many of whom knew Ginny and her husband by name, flowed in and out of the small store, the sense of the community within Chestnut Hill became a palpable thing, evidenced elsewhere throughout the evening.

Delphine Gallery owners Debbie Weiner and Vickie Spangler said that foot traffic had been steady with regular customers as well as new faces.

“We’re service-oriented, we know our customers and we know what they want,” Weiner said.

Not many of the stores seemed to have a need for online sales, but some expressed interest in developing a website in 2011.

A few doors down and tucked down an alleyway was Zipf’s Candies. The small candy store has been in business since 1968 and Christmas is one of its busiest times of the year.

Owner Alena Hackett, who has been running the store for the last three years, said that she is in the process of developing a website and that online commerce will definitely be a reality for the small shop of treats by Valentine’s Day.

Like many of the other merchants along Germantown Ave., Hackett said that business had been very steady but that people were not spending as much as they had in past years.

She didn’t seem overly concerned.

“Christmas and Easter are very busy times for us, people will always buy candy,” Hackett said with a smile.

Mango owner Tara Alexander was busy with customers on Wednesday night as she whisked through the women’s clothing store with a smile on her face. Alexander said that her store has seen a very steady influx of consumers during the holiday season, with some customers visiting all three of the Stag and Doe Nights.

She echoed the theme of a personalized shopping experience that is unique to Chestnut Hill businesses. People come year after year and some customers will come all three nights,” Alexander proclaimed. “It’s almost like you’re coming to my house,” she said.

Even after the stores closed at 9 p.m., couples and families continued to walk down the avenue, peering in at the Christmas displays and taking in the twinkling lights that lined the trees.

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