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Holiday shopping near home: Local stores offer unique gift choices

An online article published on Nov. 25, by CNNMoney, said consumers spent a record $5 billion online in 24 hours on Black Friday. This showed an almost 17 percent increase in online sales from 2016. In recent years, though, a new holiday has created an effort to bring holiday shopping out of big box stores or off of the internet and back into local shops.

Small Business Saturday, celebrated on the day after Black Friday, was created in 2010 by American Express as a way to bring holiday shopping back to communities and local brick-and-mortar stores. According to the American Express website for the day, small business owners generated an estimated $15.4 billion in 2016, with a reported 112 million shoppers patronizing locally owned stores on Small Business Saturday.

Many stores across Kendall County and in Sandwich celebrated Small Business Saturday, featuring a variety of unique gifts to give during the holidays.

Knee High to a Grasshopper, located on Sandwich’s main stretch, has been open since March 2013, selling gently used children’s clothing (from newborn to size 12), shoes, toys, games, baby gear and equipment, and maternity supplies. Current owner Michelle Thomas has been running the store since November 2013, after the store’s original owner decided to change careers.

Thomas praised the support shown by the Sandwich community, saying that loyal customers come in weekly, though many in the area don’t know much about the store.

“It’s amazing, how people in the local community still don’t know we are here. Every couple weeks, individuals will come in asking ‘How long have you been here?’” Thomas said, adding that many live only a few blocks from the store. “Our community and customers have been a great help via word-of-mouth advertising, though, so eventually more and more people will know that we are here.”

Thomas said that the store’s variety of items, used and new, offered at affordable prices, should entice customers to shop at the boutique for the holidays.

“When you purchase from us, you are not only supporting my business, but you are also supporting other local moms that have items consigned with us,” Thomas said. “So when you buy from us, you’re supporting several people all at once.”

Another locally-owned store, The Knotted Table, recently developed a storefront on Van Emmon Street in downtown Yorkville. After losing his job at Caterpillar, John Willey said he needed something to do while looking for a new job. He built a table for his family, which inspired his wife, Rachel, to suggest that the two turn Willey’s building skills into a business. In the past five years, the two have sold tables and other furniture items online, resulting in a nine-month waiting list, and have hand-delivered tables and other goods as far away as California.

At the Yorkville store, patrons can purchase hand-made decorative signs and in-stock, smaller items.

“We started small, so we can slowly grow,” Rachel Willey said. In-store items include candles, scarves and cup coozies made by locals and sold in the store, and items made by the Willeys including Lego trays and stuffed animal “cages.”

In the past two weeks that the store has been open, the community response has been good, especially on Small Business Saturday. “It’s the holidays, so everybody is coming in for Christmas presents,” Rachel Willey said. “This is supporting our family. This is John’s passion. Each item is made by us.”

Another recent shopping addition to the Kendall County area is located in a small log cabin on the corner of Route 34 and Wolf’s Crossing Road in Oswego. Owned by Mary Blanchflower and Nicole Menard, Velvet Grace features home decor, jewelry, furniture, candles, and other unique gifts. Both local residents, Blanchflower said that most stores like Velvet Grace are found in Geneva or Naperville.

“It was very important to us to bring some business to our downtown area ... something that’s a little bit different,” she said.

Though the storefront has seen many occupants over the years, the log cabin, which has been standing in Oswego for decades, has proven a benefit to Velvet Grace. Blanchflower said that the uniqueness of the location, along with the secondary facility behind the storefront, have appealed to customers, with the second spot serving as the location for the multitude of classes offered, including sign painting and scarf design.

“We’ve gotten a lot of good support the last few years from the local community,” Blanchflower said. The appeal of the store comes from the “unique” gift items that Blanchflower said “cannot be found at regular box stores.”

Another Oswego location with unique items is Bella-Gia Boutique on Main Street. Formerly known as Editions Sportswear, and American Male & Co., Bella-Gia has gone from an occasional feature, to one room, to the nameplate of the store after owner Greg Kaleel made the decision to stop buying for the men’s store. The women’s side took over, combining Editions with Bella-Gia and going by the current name.

“Now it’s not women’s here and juniors’ here, now it’s a whole Bella-Gia,” general manager Stacy Shaw said.

Specializing in clothes for girls, young adults and women, Bella-Gia is organized by color, with large displays for jewelry brands Alex & Ani, and Luca & Danni. Not always a presence in the store, about 10 years ago Bella-Gia began as a single rack in the women’s department, and has grown to become the face of the property.

Local shoppers have frequented the property for years, with a change in demographics coming along with the change in store name.

“I think we’re getting that younger customer,” Shaw said. Seventh-graders all the way up to grandmothers come into the store to shop, so, “It’s all about what fits,” she added.

Small Business Saturday was a great day at Bella-Gia, Shaw said.

“It was customers that were brand-new ... there were just groups of families walking around, or girlfriends walking around,” she said. “We have a lot of different things that other stores don’t carry. ... We strive for customer service, and we have a lot of gift ideas. If you come here, we physically help you.”

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