MARIETTA - In spite of the lure from big box discount stores that offer cheap prices on merchandise during the holidays, a growing number of people are apparently choosing to buy local.
"I prefer smaller local shops over the bigger stores, and would rather spend my money on something local and unique," said Jacinda Hutson, 21, of Marietta.
She particularly shops local for close family members.
American Flags and Poles owner Sylvi Caporale, right, hands a display item to associate Carly O’Callaghan Monday afternoon as the two decorated the store’s front windows with an array of Christmas gift ideas. (Photo by Sam Shawver)
"If a gift is for a family member I'll buy it locally because I think it's more personal," Hutson said. "And for friends I may shop somewhere else, but I still look for the local shops when I'm in other towns."
According to a recent Associated Press report, during last weekend's Small Business Saturday, an event established by American Express, more than 100 million people across the nation were expected to buy from independently owned small businesses.
That included President Barack Obama, who took his daughters out shopping Saturday where he was photographed buying a book at a small store in Arlington, Va.
Ryan Howard, 38, of Parkersburg was visiting some of the Front Street shops in Marietta Monday afternoon. He admitted price is a factor when making a purchase.
"I definitely hit Wal-Mart over the holidays, but here in downtown Marietta there are a lot of things you can't find in the big stores," he said.
Kelly Hassell, 45, of Newark said she, too, prefers buying from local businesses.
"I like buying from local shops in Newark, and when Ryan told me about Marietta, I wanted to come here and look around," she said.
One of the shops Hassell and Howard drifted through was American Flags and Poles where owner Sylvi Caporale was decorating one of the shop's display windows.
Caporale said business was extremely brisk on Small Business Saturday.
"People were unbelievably supportive that day. It was just wonderful," she said. "And I thought about how we could have Small Business Saturday all through the season."
Caporale decided to build a window display using an old Santa figure, holiday banners and other Christmas decor she had obtained from the former Dils Department Store in Parkersburg.
"And we're advertising that all the gifts in that window could be bought for less than $12," she said. "We want people to know we're a specialty store, but we also realize that shoppers need to see value in their purchases."
American Flags and Poles has been on Front Street for 17 years, and was located on Pike Street in Marietta for nine years prior to that.
"I have talked to many customers who say they specifically choose to shop at locally-owned businesses," Caporale said. "I think this is becoming a very strong trend, and we're very appreciative. We don't take that support for granted."
Russ Cogswell, owner of Apex Feed and Supply on Greene Street in Marietta, said the business, which his father began as a farm and feed store, has been around for 54 years now.
"The business has changed tremendously since then-you have to change," he said. "We offer a diverse number of products and advertise a lot to bring in customers. But the real key is service. We try to make sure everyone who walks through the door gets the attention they need."
Cogswell said many customers are also surprised at how competitive the store's prices are when compared to big box stores.
"We do all these things to keep our local customers coming back," he said.
Beverly Neff, owner of Neff's Country Loft and Quilt Shop on Washington Boulevard in Belpre, said customer service and individual attention has played a big part during her 18-plus years in business.
"I make a lot of personal contact with customers, and we do a lot of shows outside of the store," she said. "I do quilt shows within a 150-mile radius of Belpre-in areas like Columbus, Cincinnati, Cleveland, as well as in many areas of West Virginia."
Neff said she tries to make her quilt shows into mini-versions of the experience customers will have if they visit her store.
"We have built a great following and customer base," she said, adding that she has no problem directing customers to other locally-owned quilt and craft shops in the area.
"Those shops help promote us to customers, too," Neff said.
In addition to purchasing items from shops and businesses, another way people often buy local is from area crafters and artisans, according to Janet Smith of Lowell who designs and sells her own crafted jewelry at the River City Farmers Market at the Washington County Fairgrounds.
"We have some of the best artisans and crafts people around," she said. "And everything is made or grown locally."
Smith said the market is open from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Saturday through Dec. 22 with a huge variety of unique crafts, artwork, baked goods and other foods they won't find anywhere else.
"It's one-stop shopping. People can buy gifts, food, meat and produce all in one place," she said.
Smith said she always buys local, too.
"Many people go into downtown Marietta to shop, but that's wonderful, too, because those are also locally-owned businesses," she said.
Smith said the farmers market has thousands of loyal customers who return week after week.
"I think the most special thing we do is treat everyone like friends and family. They're really all our neighbors, and we treat them with respect," she said.
Lydia Hunter, who lives on Second Street in Marietta, said she, too, makes it a point to shop at local businesses.
"I just prefer to buy locally because I can get unique gifts as well as support the local economy," she said.
Although she does make some purchases online, Hunter said those are usually items she can't find through local businesses.
"And when you make a purchase at one of the big box stores, it may not be of the same quality as a locally-bought item-a lot of times you get just what you pay for," Hunter added. "Besides, shopping locally is a lot more fun."