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Monday, November 19, 2012

Downtown merchants keep Thanksgiving a holiday, not a shopping day, in Nashua

NASHUA – The contrast between shopping on Main Street versus at big box stores will perhaps never be sharper than this Thanksgiving.

As stores such as Target, Wal-Mart and Sears open their doors Thursday – hours before Black Friday havoc rains down on local malls and shopping centers – downtown merchants and their employees will be eating turkey with their relatives. ...

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NASHUA – The contrast between shopping on Main Street versus at big box stores will perhaps never be sharper than this Thanksgiving.

As stores such as Target, Wal-Mart and Sears open their doors Thursday – hours before Black Friday havoc rains down on local malls and shopping centers – downtown merchants and their employees will be eating turkey with their relatives.

That’s the way it should be, they say.

“Personally, I think it’s terrible, and I think it’s bad for families,” said Alec’s Shoe Store owner John Koutsos, referring to the Turkey Day start of some of the world’s largest retailers. “I could never ask my employees to do anything like that.”

And despite the fact that some bargain hunters will be licking their chops to shop that day, Main Street feels no pressure to follow suit.

“As a small-business owner, your holidays are precious to you,” said Philip Scontsas, owner of Scontsas Fine Jewelry & Home Decor. “To not spend a holiday with your family would just be wrong. There’s plenty of time to shop.”

Part of the reason, too, is they just don’t need to open earlier.

Saturday serves as a healthy holiday shopping kickoff for most retailers downtown.

“It’s a perfect day,” Scontsas said. “You’ve spent Thanksgiving with your family, you’ve had that Friday after to sort of digest, wait in line, get up early and be inconvenienced at the big box stores. Then you come and shop comfortably like the days of yesteryear where you meet your fellow Nashuans and friends and visit with family, and it’s all about Christmas and the holidays and supporting the community.”

The hours leading up to Nashua’s downtown Winter Holiday Stroll bring enough attention and interest to stores before the eventful evening kicks off at 5.

“We don’t have a downtown that everybody swarms to for Black Friday,” said Jill Gage, co-owner of Fortin Gage Flower and Gift Shop. “The Stroll is when everybody swarms downtown. It’s crazy at night, and we have our regular customers in during the day.”

Plus, stores like Fortin Gage have their own ways of attracting shoppers early – while still managing to save holidays for family time.

Last Thursday, for instance, the West Pearl Street store joined a dozen Main Street retailers for “Ladies Night,” an evening of shopping and pampering for women.

Fortin Gage also holds a preThanksgiving open house that allows patrons to get their flower orders in early.

“We do hear a lot of customers on our Facebook page say that people love to support downtown and they do come down here to shop,” Gage said.

On top of that, there has been a national push in recent years to shop local, through efforts such as American Express’ “Small Business Saturday,” wedged between “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday,” that incentivizes people to shop small by earning deals and credit when using their credit card.

“I think it’s a combination” between stroll traffic and the small-business event, Scontsas said, of the rush promised this weekend. “It’s really kind of caught on with people just coming out and spending, whether they’re using American Express or another credit card.”

And many Main Street stores stay busy in the days after Thanksgiving based on customer loyalty alone, they said.

“We have a good day on Black Friday, and we really do nothing promotional for it,” Koutsos said. “It’s just business as usual for us. I think the benefit of the Stroll is just the exposure to the businesses downtown, and hopefully it trickles beyond that.”

Alec’s actually closes during the Stroll, though many downtown stores prolong their hours to entertain shoppers.

“It kind of gets chaotic,” Koutsos said. “It’s very tough on my help. We go out and enjoy ourselves.”

Meanwhile, malls and shopping centers will have their employees manning hectic, extended hours deep into the holiday season.

“We try to run our business for 365 days a year, not just one,” Koutsos said. “We’ve always stuck to our values and our principles, and we have a very strong employee workforce. … Cashing in on every last nickle seven days a week is never going to work for me.”

Maryalice Gill can be reached at 594-6490 or mgill@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Gill
on Twitter (@Telegraph_MAG).