Local stores prepare for holidays

Online retailers a constant challenge

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— Thanksgiving is over and Christmas is only a month away - it's that time of year when local stores and merchants are gearing up for what they hope will be their most profitable season.

Key to a successful holiday shopping season is the continued support from local customers, many business owners say. Local support has become increasingly important in an age of online shopping and big-box retailers.

"There is competition all the time, everywhere you look," said Leslie Ryan, who co-owns Off the Beaten Path Bookstore with her husband, Dick. "The locals have really supported us."

Online retailers pose a constant challenge for small and remote communities such as Steamboat. Selling products from her store online has helped Moose Mountain Trading Co. owner Jennifer Wilson compete in the marketplace, she said.

However, merchants in Steamboat Springs are generally good about not duplicating one another's offerings and being in direct competition for a limited customer base, Ryan said.

The Christmas season is critical to the year-round success of many stores in Steamboat and elsewhere, and it makes up a significant portion of their annual sales.

"The holiday period, particularly December, is when any retail business, especially ours, makes its profit," Ryan said.

As far as major sales go, with the exception of Wal-Mart, Black Friday is basically a "non-event" in town, according to Tracy Barnett, executive director of Mainstreet Steamboat Springs.

However, local shoppers and visitors were still expected to turn out in droves this weekend to kick off their holiday shopping.

"The day after Thanksgiving is probably as big as our Fourth of July or Christmas Eve," said Jackie Andrews, manager of Steamboat Kids. Andrews was working late Wednesday night in hopes of finishing her store's Christmas window displays.

Downtown shopping destinations also are creating special promotions and events to attract local business.

Moose Mountain Trading Co. will have hot cider and cookies Saturdays during the holiday season. Steamboat Kids hosts story-time Wednesdays and will host visits from Santa Claus as Christmas nears.

Opinions were mixed on how Steamboat Ski Area's delayed opening would affect businesses this weekend.

While Andrews expected sales to be down because of the delay, Wilson took a more optimistic view, hoping that the travelers who are in town would have more time to shop while the mountain is closed.

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