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Oak Harbor hopeful for Black Friday

Janessa Schmaus, left, and Rebecca Ferguson spend Saturday afternoon outside Wal-Mart distributing candy canes with information on the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce‘s drive to increase local shopping.   - Jenny Manning/Whidbey News-Times
Janessa Schmaus, left, and Rebecca Ferguson spend Saturday afternoon outside Wal-Mart distributing candy canes with information on the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce‘s drive to increase local shopping.
— image credit: Jenny Manning/Whidbey News-Times

Shopping in Oak Harbor pays.

That’s the theme local merchants hope will keep shoppers at home this holiday season which otherwise might be as bleak as the headlines news.

To help entice people to keep their holiday dollars in town, one lucky local shopper will cash out with the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce’s drive to shop locally.

“There’s no place like home for the holidays,” “Don’t get malled this X-mas,” and other catchy slogans are showing up on posters around town, encouraging people to support the Whidbey Island economy.

The drive will do more than just beef up local sales, which will boost the city’s sales tax revenue, it’ll award one lucky shopper $1,000.

“There are several reasons why shopping at home is important,” said Jill Johnson, executive director of the Oak Harbor Chamber, “but the main reason is that by supporting local businesses we are protecting our local character and ensuring our community’s economic future.”

Even before Black Friday — the moniker for the start of the Christmas shopping season when merchants hope to see black ink on their ledgers — the chamber has been spreading the word by doling out candy canes labeled with information on the contest.

Although the concept of a shopping local effort is not new, the Chamber is hoping that some of its methods and messaging will be unique. The effort will feature a Facebook page and a MySpace page where people can share their favorite local holiday gift ideas and there will be a gift guide on the Chamber’s Web site, www.oakharborchamber.com.

Barbara Berry, manager of Discount Party, hit a somewhat new competitive threat on the head as she explained that Internet shopping is still another drain on local tax dollars. Malls aren’t the only competition anymore.

“The tax money goes right out of your community,” she said of Internet purchases. Instead, she encourages shoppers to purchase gifts from local, independent businesses.

“People are hanging onto their dough,” Berry said. “I sure don’t blame them — I am.”

The party store’s revenue is down 50 percent since the stock market crash and credit crunch began, she said.

But if the community keeps its purchases local — both for holiday gifts or otherwise — then their money will stay within Oak Harbor.

Discount Party doesn’t expect a big Black Friday rush in the early morning hours.

“Usually they go out of town to the malls,” she said. “But we get pretty busy in the afternoon.”

In years past, the big box stores of Oak Harbor got the brunt of the early morning Black Friday rush.

Wal-Mart will open its doors at 5 a.m., Kmart at 6 a.m. and Walgreen’s opens at 7 a.m. for those die-hard shoppers looking for killer deal.

Downtown businesses along Pioneer Way are hoping for a bit of the Black Friday shopping frenzy, too.

But with the rising number of off-island retail stores, Black Friday business has slowly decreased over the years, Jill Schacht, owner of Casual House and Fox Point said.

Schacht isn’t fazed by the shift in sales because the downtown shops have something that big box retail stores lack.

“I think we’re doing fine. We have our niche,” she said. “We know our customers year after year.”

They’re hoping this year their faithful customers will return, and new customers will decide to do their shopping at home. As the chamber says, “It pays.”

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