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Taffy Massey, owner of artisanal jewelry shop Crystalline Velvet, is hopeful holiday shoppers will find her store, which has been open for just four weeks.
Heather Mosley | SBJ
Taffy Massey, owner of artisanal jewelry shop Crystalline Velvet, is hopeful holiday shoppers will find her store, which has been open for just four weeks.

Downtown shop owners report cautious customers this season

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From a workbench in her store window, Taffy Massey, owner of recently opened jewelry store CrystallineVelvet, has a good vantage point to observe the holiday shopping scene.

Massey has been in her spot on Walnut Street in downtown Springfield for a little more than a month.

“Things are slow, but I’m brand new,” she said. “People are so used to walking by an empty building, but they’re starting to find me.”

Massey had a store with the same name a block west for about a year and a half, but she said COVID-19 knocked her out of business in September 2020.

She describes her new shop, like the old one, as a gallery of artisan jewelry, and said she needs to pull in $3,000-$4,000 per week to make a go of it.

She’s not there yet.

Massey pays attention to the customers inside and outside her store, and she said she has noticed some trends.

“I’m actually seeing a tighter rein on one’s purse,” she said. “I used to, in my other shop, get people that would pick up an item and say, ‘Oh, I’m going to get this for so-and-so, and if I find something else I like, I’ll just keep it for myself.’”

That’s not the case this season.

“There aren’t as many people shopping for themselves,” she said.

Is this the face of the inflationary shopper? The latest figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, released Nov. 10, show the consumer price index having risen 7.7% year over year, and customers’ guardedness may be the result. An informal Springfield Business Journal poll this month found 49% of respondents plan to spend less on holiday purchases this year.

“I’m not seeing as many people downtown carrying shopping bags,” Massey said. “They’re going out to eat, and I see them carrying some leftovers or food bags, but very few store bags.”

National trends
From its international, metaphorical shop window, research firm Ipsos agrees with Massey, finding that consumers are anxious about rising prices but badly want to get into the holiday spirit.

The 2022 Ipsos study found 34% of shoppers were experiencing more anticipation around holiday celebrations this year. This was true even though gift budgets are decreasing from last year for 29% of them.

The study found 87% of people feeling stressed about rising costs, with 55% more stressed than last year. Some 47% felt costs would significantly impact their holiday shopping.

Rusty Worley, executive director of the Downtown Springfield Association, said those who shop at independent businesses are boosting the local economy.

“Downtown shoppers are more connected to the businesses they support,” Worley said. “Customers take time to learn their stories and make a point of allocating a portion of their holiday shopping locally.”

Worley described the downtown shopping experience as less chaotic than other options.

Perhaps no one is as pleased to be downtown as Mandi Fritz, owner of 417 Cocktails LLC, 211 S. Market Ave. Fritz opened her downtown location in September, after spending a year renting space from 417 Charcuterie LLC in Brentwood Center South.

The business specializes in the fixings that go into cocktails – the nonalcoholic bits, at least, including syrups, stuffed olives, bloody mary mixes, garnishes and bitters. Fritz’s specialty is drink kits that allow purchasers to prepare specific cocktails at home – just add spirits.

Fritz also prepares custom kits, an act she compares to the video game Tetris.

“Someone came in yesterday and we spent 30 minutes going around the shop together,” Fritz said. “We knocked about 20 gifts off her list for her business.”

Fritz loves the downtown vibe.

“I walked into my shop, and it was pretty much already ready,” she said of her new spot in Union Biscuit Warehouse. “There was very little I had to do for infill, and it had original exposed brick that makes my historian heart so happy.

“I didn’t want to be in a strip mall; I wanted a building or a neighborhood with character.”

Being a business owner is a roller-coaster, Fritz said.

“Any part of the day, I go from thinking I’m a huge failure and made a huge mistake to thinking I’m the best in the world,” she said.

Last year’s holiday season made up about 30% of Fritz’s annual revenue, she said.

“This year, I have no idea,” she said. “Some things are so much the same, but it’s also all so different.”

Even the preferred cocktails are different downtown than they were in Brentwood South. There, people inquired about kits for martinis.

“That’s pretty much just alcohol, and I don’t sell alcohol, so no,” she said.

But she stocked some stuffed olives, which continue to sell like hotcakes, and dirty martini juice. But it turns out downtown patrons love bloody marys, and so she sells a lot of mixes.

“That stuff goes huge here,” she said.

Like Massey, Fritz observes the shoppers who come in.

“The biggest trend that I see – and I don’t know if it’s that I’m downtown or that 417’s just amazing – is so many people are focusing on buying local,” she said. “That makes me as happy as I can possibly be.”

Fritz stocks local items, and when she can’t find them, she buys items from small businesses.

“It’s more about a memorable Christmas,” she said. “Buying local isn’t always the cheapest way, but I think people really understand when you buy local, that money stays local and helps the economy. It’s a feel-good thing.”

She noted buying from online retailers like Amazon has its place, but buying locally shows a gift-giver has invested some time.

“You’re not just hopping on an app; you’re making a point to come downtown and search out a gift you just can’t get anywhere,” she said.

The unexpected
Two established businesses on Walnut Street are BookMarx, 325 E. Walnut St., a used bookstore entering its ninth year, and Stick It in Your Ear, 300 E. Walnut St., a 29-year-old music store specializing in pre-owned vinyl.

BookMarx owner Joshua Arnett said shopping is strong so far this season. Volume is about the same as last year, which was back to post-pandemic figures.

Arnett said the holiday season is important to the store.

“It’s what pushes us through January and February every year,” he said.

Arnett said holiday sales represented close to a third of his annual business in 2021.

Across the street at Stick It in Your Ear, owner Erik Milan also reported 2022 holiday sales seem to be very much in line with 2021 – both record years, pun very much intended.

“Really, the month of December and into January is kind of where we catch up for the year,” he said. “It’s a time when we clear a lot of things out and get caught up as far as profit for the year.”

December sales tend to be twice those of an average month.

When he reopened in 2020 after a forced COVID-19 closure, business was ferocious, Milan said.

“When you’re stuck at home and have to find other means of entertainment, that’s what we do,” he said.

Milan, like others, described shoppers as cautious this year.

“They’re more deliberate in what they’re buying and who they’re buying for,” he said. “Inflation is horrible right now, and it’s hitting everyone all at once.”

While customers are focused, they continue to buy.

“I won’t really know the full scope of things until Dec. 26,” Milan said.

“After that, everyone has Christmas money or gift cards, so our holiday season bleeds into mid-January.”


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