By Ritchie Starnes, News Editor
Tuesday, December 10, 2013 —
Turnout for this year’s Albemarle Downtown Christmas decreased significantly over years’ past, but for some merchants that wasn’t all bad news.
The majority of businesses, however, prefer to have the annual event at night when Christmas lights are illuminated, opposed to this year’s inaugural daylight event.
“There’s just a more festive feeling at night,” Carole Brown, owner of Albemarle Music Store, said.
Gene Starnes, owner of Starnes Jewelry, agreed that the evening is the ideal time to have Downtown Christmas.
“It wasn’t the same feel during the day,” Starnes said.
“The streets are usually alive, but we didn’t have that kind of energy.
“What I’m hearing is that people prefer having it at night.”
Some merchants found smaller crowds to be advantageous in terms of sales and customer service.
“All in all it was better for us than the previous format,” said Keith Reeder, of Top Dollar Jewelry & Loan Co.
“We had so many people in the store during years’ past we were like greeters, unable to give customers time to wait on them.”
As a result, Top Dollar fared better in sales this year than in the past.
“Throughout the day we had spots when we asked why are we doing this, but at the end of the day we fared better,” Reeder said.
Most agreed that steady to sporadic streams of visitors replaced the previous crowded streets and stores.
“Usually you can’t get around in here,” Brown said.
“This year was much calmer.”
Holiday visitors typically flock to Brown’s music store to admire the bevy of trains located upstairs. But folks paraded by with relative ease and without the normal crowd control.
And while sales there dipped below Saturday’s typical haul, Brown said the store took advantage of the opportunity to bolster its musical entertainment.
Starnes concurred that his sales were also below what the event usually yields, comparing it to an ordinary Saturday in terms of receipts.
Yugonda Underwood said The Kat’s Meow rarely experiences a huge sales day during the annual celebration.
“Nobody wants to carry anything around when they’re going from one place to another,” she said.
But Underwood considered Saturday’s overall attendance stout.
“I thought the turnout went well, considering the weather and all of the other activities going on,” Underwood said.
Sherree Fraley’s Second Street Gallery posted strong sales for “small ticket items.” But she, too, prefers that the event return to the evenings.
Albemarle Downtown Development Corporation, in conjunction with its Christmas Committee, opted to try a new approach with the daytime festivities on Saturday, instead of the past Friday night events.
Having the event on Saturday allowed for more shopping hours and increased activities. Also, a Saturday event would not compete with high school football playoffs.
In addition to night, the downtown event typically occurs sooner than the first week of December.
“It was too late in the year,” Starnes said.
“Something around Thanksgiving would be better. That’s what I’m hearing from customers.”
This year’s event also went sideways when the morning started off as rain, forcing North Stanly High School’s marching band to cancel its performance.
That led organizers to keep downtown streets open for traffic, which then forced other events scheduled for the square to be moved indoors.
“They typically don’t march in the rain because the uniforms are expensive,” said Shannon Johnson, newly-hired ADDC director.
“Since that didn’t occur, we didn’t think closing the streets was necessary.”
Children performances by Melissa Kathleen’s School of Dance were forced indoors, with families taking turns between inside and outside to watch their kids.
Although it rained earlier in the morning, showers ended before the start of day’s activities. The day, however, remained blustery and gray.
“As for the weather keeping people away. the rain was pretty much over,” Starnes said.
Most downtown eateries reported generous sales.
Usually closed on Saturdays, Hugh Wainwright opened the Goody Shop. To his delight, the decision to open proved profitable.
“We stayed busy all day long,” Wainwright said.
“It slowed late in the day, but overall it was a good day. I’d do it again.”
Johnson said that while the crowd was not as large as in previous years, enough visitors made the day worthwhile.
“I saw a steady stream of people all day,” Johnson said.
She also realizes the debate over day versus night and whether to launch the holiday shopping season sooner than later will likely resume next year.
“I think the most important thing is consistency,” Johnson said.
“That’s going to be a conversation for the future.
“People like to put things down on a calendar. I know I do.”
Call Ritchie Starnes at (704) 982-2121 ext. 28 or email ritchie@stanlynews press.com.