Brenda Potter looked for a beautiful wreath to help brighten her mother-in-law's spirits this holiday. She stopped in at The Gift Gallery, 1118 Central Ave. in Middletown, to not only get a Christmas present but also to support small businesses.

Brenda Potter looked for a beautiful wreath to help brighten her mother-in-law’s spirits this holiday. She stopped in at The Gift Gallery, 1118 Central Ave. in Middletown, to not only get a Christmas present but also to support small businesses.

“It’s good for the region. I find a lot of little gifts the big stores don’t have. If everybody would do it, it would help the town,” said Potter.

The “Small Business Saturday” campaign began in 2010. While you won’t find a 50 percent off flat screen TV at The Gift Gallery, you will find high quality woodworking gifts, colorful bracelets and much more. Owner Melody Gall slashed prices 20 percent off everything in her store. The retired eighth-grade English teacher opened her downtown business in March, and she said sales have soared 40 percent since the shop opened.

“We had a Christmas open house on Nov. 23 … very strong (sales), busy from the time we opened at 10 a.m. and actually stayed open two hours later,” said Gall.

Even though sales are strong, downtown Middletown could be even better, Gall said. “We need more variety downtown, need more stores opened with regular hours.”

Just a few blocks down the road at the Liberty Restaurant, 1212 Central Ave., owner Sally Hollon agreed with Gall. She said if city leaders offered tax breaks for entrepreneurs that might help attract more business owners downtown. “I would like to see more stores open, if they come to shop then they’ll stop and eat,” said Hollon.

Both women would also like to see some of the older buildings transformed into condominiums and apartments. “Would be great if somebody could buy it and turn it into things for the college kids, maybe dorms and apartments; we need people living down here,” said Hollon. “Apartments would be great because of course that would increase foot traffic,” said Gall. She laughingly said, “I’m willing to be patient as long as we don’t go broke.”

Less than stellar sales have made this a challenging year for Hollon’s Liberty Restaurant known for its original chili dogs. “Sales are down 50 percent because there’s nothing downtown to draw people here.” She’s hoping this holiday season that trend will change. In addition to selling chili dogs on the menu customers can also buy guitars and other mementos hanging on the wall at the 1950s style diner. “I sold three guitars last week, they were between $100 to $200,” said Hollon.

Hamilton

Dozens of stores in Hamilton held drawings for $25 American Express Gift Cards on Saturday. The Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce organized the annual event. At Ryan’s Tavern Authentic Irish Pub, 241 High St., customers received happy hour prices on some appetizers if they said “shop small” to their server.

Across the river at The Book Keeper, 516 Main St., book lovers received 50 percent off one book on Saturday and a coupon for 20 percent off their next purchase. Owner Kerry Bossert has approximately 20,000 used books in her store, and has signs promoting the “shop small” campaign.

“The small stores around here really support Hamilton a lot financially, we have a lot of things the big stores don’t have and especially the service we provide,” said Bossert.

It’s that one-on-one attention that Bossert said she believes sets small businesses like her book store apart from the big box stores.

“People come in and look for a particular thing and it’s easy for me to get up and look and give them different ideas where the big stores you can ring that bell for 45 minutes and nobody’s going to answer you,” said Bossert.

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©2013 the Journal-News (Hamilton, Ohio)

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