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Shopping local for the holidays

Jennifer Sprouse • Nov 24, 2012 at 9:22 PM

While a lot of shoppers will gravitate toward big retailers like Best Buy, Target and Walmart this holiday season, locally owned businesses in the downtown areas in the surrounding towns also offer a variety of gift options unique to anything you can find at one of the big chain stores.

Dick Nelson, owner of Nelson Fine Art, said the downtown merchants in Johnson City in particular have a true diversity and a little something for everyone.

“You have individuals who have a vision and a dream and they’ve come downtown to make it happen and provide a product that nobody else has,” he said. “What people can find here (Nelson Fine Art) is local artwork, local ceramics. We’ve got custom framing so that if we frame something it’s going to be unlike anything else.”

Nelson said his business definitely picks up during the holidays, with people coming in and buying artwork, and also getting either a picture, photograph or portrait framed.

He said there are many perks of shopping downtown, including the absence of long lines and helping out the local merchants.

“Local dollars stay local. When you shop local it stays local,” Nelson said.

While Shawn Samier said that shoppers that come into his store Atomik Comiks are either comic book fans or family and friends of one shopping for them, his store offers quite the variety of new, vintage and discounted comic books, which could make for a fun gift.

“I’d say it’s very unique. It’s not your run of the mill deal. You don’t go to a mall to get it,” Samier said. “It’s not a mass produced item, for the most part.”

He said enjoys having his shop in the downtown area and that consumers looking for the unusual or different gift this season would probably have a better chance of finding that gift in the local shops downtown.

“With downtown you have to do some walking, but it’s worth it because the shops are unique and eclectic,” Samier said.

Atomik Comiks, along with other local downtown businesses including Holy Taco, Main Street Pizza and Bernina In Stitches also offer gift cards and gift certificates for customers to buy as gifts.

Linda Broyles, software instructor and Donna Horowitz, floor associate and beginning sewing instructor at Bernina In Stitches, said that beyond their branded Bernina sewing machines, which come with free sewing classes with every purchase of a machine, they also have a wish list registry program.

Broyles said they can start a wish list for any shopper to add or remove items that they would like as a gift and then if a loved one comes in to get them something they have items to choose from.

“It’s kind of like a gift registry for weddings or babies, we do it for sewing,” she said. “We have several ladies who take advantage of that. One was in this morning and added a couple of things to her wish list.”

Saturday was known as “Small Business Saturday” throughout the country and Horowitz, an advocate of shopping local, said to have more growth in local downtown areas, it’s important to support the local businesses already in place.

“There’s a lot of variety and if you support your downtown businesses, they’re going to bring on more businesses, which we’ve seen with the trend of all the different restaurants coming into play down here, and other small companies starting up,” she said. “It’s renewed interest in your own city.”

Since August the town of Jonesborough has picked a downtown business each week to participate in a Cash Mob from 11 a.m.-4 p.m., encouraging customers to spend at least $20 in the local business. Patrons that spend $20 in the store get their name put into a hat for a drawing of a gift valued at a little over $50.

Saturday’s local business was the Jonesborough General Store and Eatery.

Joe Bush, co-owner of the store who was busy ringing up customers that afternoon, said Christmas shopping in his store started about a week ago, but that Saturday was an even bigger rush with customers buying things for the holiday. He said the majority of the items in his store are locally made and produced.

“We have about 65 to 70 percent of the items in the store (that) are actually locally made products and that ranges from candles right here in Jonesborough, to wood products made in Johnson City, canned goods made in Piney Flats, honey made in Telford, a great big display of popcorn made out in Telford, (and) the Pointer Brand clothing in Bristol,” he said. “The money’s got to be generated somewhere and rather than spend all of the money in big box stores and rather than us spending our money out of town, we want to spend our money locally whenever we can, hence so many items in this store that are locally made.”

Bush said a perk of being apart of a local business is the interaction and establishing a connection with customers.

“We know most of our local customers by name and they know us by name,” he said. “It makes it fun.”

Other unique shops like antique and collectibles stores, as well as restaurants, are prevalent in downtown areas throughout the Tri-Cities region, including in Elizabethton and Erwin.

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