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‘Every dollar they spend … makes a difference.’ Howard, Carroll small businesses ready for holiday shopping rush

It’s the most wonderful time of the year for local retailers, when shoppers fill stores and provide an essential economic boost to small businesses.

Supporting small businesses is a choice customers make, said Sally Tennant, owner of Precious Gifts on Ellicott City’s Main Street. Tennant said she is grateful for the many customers who have supported her and other Main Street businesses over the years.

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“People care about the community when they spend money with a small business in a place like Ellicott City,” Tennant said. “Every dollar they spend … makes a difference between thriving and closing. It is the customers that help us exist.”

Charlene Townsend, owner of Maxine’s Antiques & Collectibles in Ellicott City, described the atmosphere on Small Business Saturday, two days after Thanksgiving, as “excellent.”

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“There is a lot of really great spirit today,” she said.

Customer Lydia Temoshok walked around Townsend’s store pointing at decorations while shopping on Saturday.

“There is definitely an air of joy and hope,” she said. “I come by to see all of the creative ways in which Charlene decorates. Who else has a flamingo wreath?”

For many small businesses, holiday-related year-end sales are vital, according to Julie Della-Maria, executive director of the Downtown Sykesville Connection, a nonprofit focused on promoting Sykesville’s Main Street businesses.

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“It is crucial as a small business to do well during the holiday season,” Della-Maria said. “January and February are very slow for revenue, retail especially, because people are recovering from spending on Christmas.”

Various events, from tree lightings to cookie strolls to Santa visits, are being held around the region to attract customers to small businesses.

“The events ... definitely help,” said Lori McDermott, who along with her husband, Steve, owns Southwest Connection on Ellicott City’s Main Street. “It helps get you through the winter months.”

Christopher Pineda is the executive director of Ellicott City Partnership, a nonprofit that supports economic growth in historic Ellicott City. He said Main Street small businesses are far different from corporate America.

“[Small business owners] are sending their kids to college with the money they get from their customers. They are our neighbors,” he said. “It is definitely important to come and support our small businesses.”

Erin Mathews, owner of The Last Word, with locations in Historic Savage Mill and on Mount Airy’s Main Street, said she is thankful for what the mill’s management and town’s Main Street association do to attract customers to her business.

“It’s nice to have that backup,” Matthews said. “This year has been good, but it can always be better.”

Both Ellicott City and Sykesville main streets are offering their own form of “currency” this holiday season in order to boost sales at small businesses.

The Ellicott City Partnership, with Visit Howard County and the Patapsco Heritage Greenway, is offering Old Ellicott City (OEC) bucks through Dec. 12. An OEC buck is a voucher worth $15 provided free to anyone who registers online. The vouchers can be used to purchase items at numerous shops on Ellicott City’s Main Street. To register for an OEC buck, go to https://www.eventbrite.com/e/2021-oec-bucks-registration-tickets-193566742337?aff=efbneb.

“It is a little incentive to shop in Old Ellicott City,” Pineda said.

Similarly, Downtown Sykesville Connection’s GetSyked gift card is valid at 27 downtown shops and restaurants, with some offering special deals to cardholders. Cards can be purchased in any amount and are available at downtownsykesville.com.

Jill Gregory, manager at A Likely Story Bookstore in Sykesville, credited the Downtown Sykesville Connection for its marketing efforts.

“They do a lot to encourage shopping and promote events,” Gregory said. “The businesses organize things, too.”

Kathy Schappell, of Sykesville, spent Saturday shopping on Sykesville’s Main Street.

“I try to keep it local and support small businesses,” Schappell said. “They have cute Maryland-area things and stuff local people make.”

While small businesses may offer unique items, most must still deal with many of the same issues facing larger stores, including supply shortages, Della-Maria said.

“There are shipping delays, and it is not easy to restock items,” Della-Maria said. “Businesses are forming partnerships and getting very creative.”

Julio Alegria, owner of Gamers-Corps, a hobby gaming store in Ellicott City, agreed that shipping issues are causing some concern.

“I can’t give customers an exact date [for restocks],” he said. “If you see it in the store, buy it.”

Alegria was pleased with the crowds on Saturday, especially the many families that were shopping.

“Everybody is coming in happy and having a good time,” Alegria said. “We have more people coming out today than Black Friday. That’s good to see.”

Many people started their holiday shopping early, according to McDermott, of Southwest Connections, and business has been steady since the beginning of November.

“We have a great loyal following of customers,” McDermott said. “It’s a great community. We couldn’t think of being anywhere else.”

Laila El-Asmar, of Silver Spring, visited Ellicott City for the first time last weekend with her family.

“It is such a sweet town, really cute,” El-Asmar said. “I like that it is not just one little strip and that there are multiple types of stores and restaurants.”

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