Last Friday night, Grandma got run over by a reindeer at Schauer’s Hardware, while a couple of live reindeer parked on the lawn outside Todd & Holland Tea Merchants. Santa Claus patrolled Madison Street after good Christians bought indulgences at Centuries & Sleuths Bookstore. Kids roasted marshmallows over a fire pit on the street and others rode through town in a horse-drawn wagon.
Not only did Forest Park’s annual Holiday Walk draw a large crowd along Madison Street, but the event was also meant to “showcase the creativity of owners of Madison Street’s unique boutiques,” said Laurie Kokenes, Forest Park Chamber of Commerce director.
“Anytime you can bring folks from the surrounding communities to a unique event that involves the businesses, it’s a good thing,” she said.
This year’s event saw fewer sponsors than years past, but merchants have been suffering during the recession just like some consumers, Kokenes said.
“So, hey, we’re right there with them,” she said. Now many of the shops are “looking forward to the fourth quarter to ring their registers.”
As businesses adjust to the tough economic times, creativity becomes a key factor in reaching out to customers, said Augie Aleksy, owner of Centuries & Sleuths.
“You have to be different, but not just different – good and different,” he said. “Walk-in business isn’t going to make it in this type of economy. You have to hold activities of some sort.”
At the bookstore, for example, Aleksy said sales are “depressed” and have been down compared to prior years. However, he said he had a “fantastic” September when the bookstore celebrated its 20th anniversary and held all kinds of special events.
While it’s especially important for shop owners to think creatively during the recession, Aleksy said that many of Forest Park’s store owners have been thinking outside the box for many years.
For example, the owners of Team Blonde, a custom jewelry boutique, spa and salon, have been coming up with ideas for years on how to work alongside other Forest Park businesses.
“A lot of the merchants on Madison, we have a very collaborative spirit,” said Heidi Vance, co-owner of Team Blonde. “We’re just trying to figure out how to work together because what’s good for one is good for all.”
At Team Blonde’s monthly Girls Night Out events, women will bring in food from Gaetano’s, for example, or mini-sundaes from Brown Cow. They also share coupons with Two Fish Art Glass across the street, and they partner with clothing store Deedee & Edee to host VIP shopping parties.
“It’s just a good way to do business,” said Jayne Ertel, also a co-owner of Team Blonde. “What ends up happening is our good customers become their good customers. It’s like a reinvestment in the same street.”
For Deedee & Edee, that strategy seems to be paying off. Even in the recession, the store boasted an 18-percent increase in sales in 2009, and it is already up 27 percent in sales this year.
“My business has never been down,” said Deb Dworman, owner of the store, which has been in Forest Park nearly four years. “We have been doing just fine.”
“Recession or no recession, cross-marketing efforts are pretty much a common thing among our merchants,” Kokenes said. “Their efforts proved quite successful and the number of merchants working together on creative promotions and special events continues to grow.”