Ardmore Retailers Are Set for Black Friday, but Realistic About Expectations
Downtown Ardmore has all the holiday trimmings and another wave of 'Downtown Dollars,' but proprietors know they face stiff competition from Big Box chains with huge discounts.
All along Lancaster Avenue, down Rittenhouse Place and Cricket Terrace, through the side streets and stores within Suburban Square, the retail trade in Ardmore was gearing up earlier this week for the biggest month of sales all year – the holiday season, traditionally kicked off on the day after Thanksgiving, also known as Black Friday.
"We never go about business as usual and just hope for the best," said Christine Vilardo, executive director of the Ardmore Initiative, a downtown business organization. Local retailers and pro-business groups try very hard to stimulate extra business on the kickoff weekend for intense holiday shopping, according to Vilardo.
That said, Vilardo and her fellow small business owners don't kid themselves about the corporate competition. "The Black Friday weekend is traditionally not the biggest weekend for small mom-and-pops, because of the big box stores and the malls," she said. "They can't have those huge discounts, and they can't open at midnight."
What they can offer is free town parking on Saturdays through the season (four weekends this year), and a second helping of "Downtown Dollars," the popular and oversubscribed program from last spring, when locals stood in line to get the hyperlocal currency. Many were disappointed that they missed out on the Ardmore scrip, so for the new round, a lottery was instituted. Winners were notified on Nov. 1.
The result is $20,000 of new Ardmore Downtown Dollars in circulation. Four banks (Bryn Mawr Trust, Beneficial, St. Edmond's and FirstTrust) kicked in a total of $10,000, and customers supplied another $10,000 through a 2-for-1 deal: With $50, lottery winners could buy $100 worth of the Monopoly money.
"It's a way to offer the discounts that the big box stores offer without it coming out of the merchants pockets," Vilardo said. "This year the response has been stronger – our merchants are pretty smart – they know what they're up against."
Participating businesses proudly display their acceptance of the bills on front doors and windows throughout town. One of them is Harry Althouse, owner of Harry's Treasures and Collectibles, on the main drag.
"I don't think I can begin to compete with the big box stores," said Althouse, who took a few minutes away from his holiday decorating. "Black Friday is not normally a real big day for me. What I'm hoping for this year is 'Small Business Saturday,' a national thing that's going on."
Althouse was referring to an American Express promotion for Nov. 27, though he himself does not accept that card. Calling himself "old-fashioned," he vowed not to light up his Christmas display windows until Black Friday actually arrived. "I was at Rite Aid on Halloween, and they had already started putting up the Christmas stuff," he said.
"I've had a few good Black Fridays, but people Christmas shopping are pretty much at the malls. I do get some people come in who are regulars, who have the day off. Some people mark their calendar to come in and see what I have for antique Christmas decorations. I try to take care of my regular customers."
"It's probably comparable to one of our regular Saturdays," said Patricia Franks, the manager of the Junior League Thrift Shop on Lancaster Avenue for a dozen years or so. "But we're different. We're a nonprofit, and normally we go way up in a poor economy."
Franks said she's noticing a bit of a Catch-22 this year: demand is up, because shoppers are seeking bargains, but donations are down, because there is a general frugality trend happening. Luckily, Junior League members (there are some 300 active, with another 700 or so contributors) have a quota for items donated.
Nonetheless, the holidays are a major part of the most retail businesses' annual bottom line, and trimming the store in tinsel attracts gift buyers. "Right now, it already looks like Santa arrived a long time ago," Franks laughed.
No matter the state of the economy, Althouse expressed the sentiment of many Ardmore business owners in saying that anything would be better than snow in December. "That just killed us," he said of the 2009 storm.
Also helping to promote the town is another tradition: radio advertising. Vilardo said that the Ardmore Merchants Association's holiday radio campaign on KYW 1060 AM and Bee 101 FM has grown to more than 300 spots between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Still, Black Friday sales are "not so much," according to Lay Cheng, the manager for Olly's. "But we do see an increase in business. And this is the first year that we're actually decorating [for Christmas]."
Cheng said stores within Suburban Square are driven mostly by corporate mandate, but they also increase hours of business.
More hours open, discounts, Downtown Dollars, the business community working together – it's all good, Althouse said.
"Just as long as it doesn't snow," he added.