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Local Christmas shopping lucrative for small merchants this year




How are small local stores, especially those who carry unique, locally-made items, doing for the holidays? It’s a rough economy, and hard to compete with bigger discount chain stores, but plenty are popular with Pulaski-area shoppers, and a sample of area merchants say it’s only getting better with the season.

If you’re willing to expand your definition of “locally-produced” to anything from inside the state, Virginia peanuts are popular just about everywhere that sells them.

“They sell pretty well,” says Martin’s Pharmacy manager Eddie Hale, “probably better during the holiday season.” He noted that Martin’s carries other Virginia snacks, like Heritage House cheese straws from Richmond, which also sell well. “They sell real well during the holidays, I’d say probably 25 to 40 percent more than usual,” says Hale.

Virginia peanuts also sell well at the MK’s Gourmet Pizzeria and Shoppe, the Draper Mercantile and the Fairlawn Kroger. MK’s manager Becky Nunley notes that gift items sell a little slower at her establishment, but points out that as they’re a restaurant, most people come in for meals first and browse for gifts as an afterthought. The Draper Mercantile, known for a little bit of everything, sees a lot of food gifts, including nuts, selling briskly for the holidays. Kroger has Virginia peanuts, along with  standard big-brand varieties of nuts.

Other food items sell well, especially beverages; the MK’s, the Mercantile and Kroger all carry Virginia wines, especially Chateau Morissette. Nunley says she also sees Attimo Winery and West Wind Farm wine selling well at MK’s; she says “wines and the nuts” tend to be the best gift item the store offers.

“I’m really not a wine drinker, but I would probably recommend the Chateau Morissette wines. I’ve tried them and they’re very tasty,” said Fairlawn Kroger manger Cheryl Matthews. Kroger also has the advantage of carrying Homestead Creamery dairy items, including seasonal specialties like their boiled custard.

The Mercantile has wine as well as locally-produced beer and coffee roasted in small batches by Dark Hollow Roasters in Wythe County; they roast it on Wednesdays and deliver it to the Mercantile on Thursdays. According to Merc owner Debbie Gardner, Blue Door Cafe customers particularly enjoy it and like to take ground beans home with them. She says that a gift idea some people enjoy is pairing the coffee with locally-produced mugs with the Mercantile logo on them.

Other foods are doing well, too. Kroger’s selection of Virginia-produced edibles include jams, jellies, salad dressings, apple butter, spoonbread mix and potato chips. “Sales are actually above average for those (local) items,” says Matthews. The Draper Mercantile likewise carries Virginia-made BBQ sauce, pork, beef, cheese and apple butter.

Outside the realm of comestibles, craft-type gift items are also moving well. Lucy Lynn’s Li’l Touch of Home in downtown Pulaski is a newcomer to the market this year, but Tammy Lytton says, “This week has been really good. Baby quilts and lap quilts have been really big sellers.” The store has a rotating stock of items crafted by locals and some by Lytton herself, including Christmas-themed hand towels, jewelry, tote bags and hat and scarf sets for kids and adults.

The Draper Mercantile also offers the work of local artisans, including pottery, art prints from oil to watercolor, scarves and jewelry, gift baskets with local food, including honey, and drink, ornaments, books by local authors, notecards, postcards, and soap from a small North Carolina company.  “Soaps and greeting cards are probably our number one items,”  says Gardner, though she notes, “Books have really been moving well. Overall, our retail sales are 50-60 percent of our entire sales this season. It’s really moving up for Christmas.” Additionally, the Junction, an outdoor gear and bike rental shop on the Merc’s lower level, carries New River Trail long sleeve, short sleeve and sweat shirts, which are popular items.Those are doing very well,” says Gardner. “They’re good quality.”

The Green Heron in Radford, which carries artwork by local artists only, also offers a wide variety of potential gifts, including purses, scarves, hats, jewelry, candles and hand creams. “One of our popular items when people want to ship something out are our Woodland Wonders,” says owner Becky Lattuca. “They’re earrings and necklaces made from bracket fungus.” As for what the best standard go-to gift item in her store, Latucca replies, “Really, there is no one answer to that. It takes a little bit of conversation to pick out an item.” As far as how things are moving, she notes, “It’s picked up a little. From mid-December to Christmas we’ll probably do 75 percent of our December business. It’s right down to the wire.”