The message of the day on Nov. 25 was “Shop Small.” The weather cooperated with sunshine and blue skies as local shoppers supported Polson and Ronan business communities during Small Business Saturday.
Shawneen Turner, who owns The Rack, an upscale women’s clothing store in Polson, was happy about the weather.
“It’s been a fantastic day to see the locals come out and support small businesses,” she said.
Kelly Jo Nagel owns The Jaded Pony Boutique on Ronan’s Main Street. It’s a relatively new brick-and-mortar business, although she’s been online for a while. Nagel notified customers on The Jaded Pony facebook page about Small Business Saturday and mentioned her discounts and deals.
She had more customers than normal, she said, including teenagers who came in and purchased items they’d been looking at in the boutique.
In-between customers at Second Nature Gifts and Goods on Polson’s Main street Saturday, owner Bobbie Goldberg took a moment to talk.
“People aren’t shopping as much,” she said. “They’re being more frugal because of living costs. Although fuel prices are dropping, taxes are going up.”
To meet customer needs, Goldberg’s focus has been on usable, affordable smaller items that are a little more meaningful and personalized.
Shawn Gilligan at the Mission Valley Popcorn Kitchen in Ronan said Saturdays are the busiest day of the week for sales, but he did hear customers talking about Small Business Saturday. He reported a good week for the business, with fudge and popcorn being popular hostess gifts for Thanksgiving.
Artist Joanne Simpson took her shift at Sandpiper Art Gallery and Gifts in Polson on Saturday “because I like to be busy when I work.”
The Sandpiper was hopping, and had been busy all day, Simpson said. She worked Small Business Saturday last year and felt that more shoppers had been cruising the gallery this year.
“A lot of people have been coming through, and I think they’re getting ideas for later,” said Carol Lynn Lapotka, owner of handMade Montana and her clothing company REcreate in Polson.
Lots of out-of-towners appeared to be visiting for Thanksgiving, “which is great to see.” She reported that customers told her, “Oh, I haven’t been downtown for a long time; it’s so great to see all the new stores.”
“This is our fifth Small Business Saturday since handMade Montana opened and it’s progressively gotten better every year,” Lapotka said.
Consensus among the merchants interviewed was that 2023 has been an unusual business year with most mentioning a decline in sales – the first in awhile. Causes may be the rising cost of living, the low level of Flathead Lake during the summer, and for Ronan, the road construction project. The construction may have impacted Polson merchants, too.
Flathead Lake’s historically low water level impacted both the tourist trade and those with lake places.
People were already leaving the first of August, Turner said. She heard customers saying they usually stay but they couldn’t put their boat in, and they couldn’t enjoy the lake so why should they stick around.
All of the merchants interviewed hope residents continue to shop locally.
“I think its (Small Business Saturday) impact will be seen not just in December, but in the future as well, which is very good,” Lapotka said.
Goldberg agreed, and encouraged people to continue to shop locally. Even if things might be a dollar or two more expensive, the money stays in the local community.
“We’re the ones who support the baseball team, the cheerleaders, and the football team,” Goldberg said.
Everybody agreed it was good to see the downtown streets filled with people, shopping, visiting, and getting their holiday season off to a good start.