CONWAY, SC (WMBF) – Now that the hustle and bustle of big-box Black Friday is over, there's an even bigger push to do the rest of your Christmas shopping locally.
Small Business Saturday jumpstarted the initiative.
"It was great," says Matthew Varnadore, the owner of Waccamaw Outfitters. "A lot of people downtown. Met a lot of new people, saw a lot of new faces. They told us they were here specifically for us and to shop small in Conway. And what a blessing that was!"
Varnadore has been renting boats and kayaks in Conway for years, but he just opened his retail storefront in August. He says the push from Small Business Saturday is continuing through the holidays, as many of the businesses downtown have seen a lot of support.
And cities are making extra efforts to attract your attention to downtown shops. The Rivertown Christmas Celebration kicks off Thursday night in downtown Conway with the lighting of the Christmas tree at City Hall. That starts at 6 p.m. The director for Downtown Conway Alive, the group that promotes downtown business, says each year they see 350-550 people at the tree lighting.
Then every Thursday night from 6-8 p.m. in December there will be fun family events and shops will stay open late. On these Thursday nights, you can visit with Santa and enjoy "living window displays" designed by different downtown businesses. The co-owner of Third Avenue Home, Sheila Walberg-O'Niel, says they will have one of their artists actually spinning yarn in the window and making winter caps out of it. Other windows are already painted and decorated with festive displays.
There will also be caroling and carriage rides. And there is a canine Christmas costume contest. Another big push in downtown Conway this year is the Tour of Homes that will be this Sunday. There are five historic homes that you will walk through and see them all decorated. But you have to buy a ticket to do this. To buy tickets to this historic home tour or to enter your dog in the costume contest, visit the Conway Downtown Alive website. All the other holiday events for the Rivertown Christmas Celebrations are free.
"All the shop owners that have shops down here love it," says Walberg-O'Niel. "And we try to preserve it as much as we can. But the only way we can do that is if people support their communities and actually shop local. And to keep their money here to keep the downtowns alive."
Hillary Howard, the executive director for Conway Downtown Alive, says about 22 new businesses have opened in the Central Business District in 2015. About half of those are retail and service businesses. And Conway's growing success is setting an example for other downtown areas.
"I've seen that the other communities are starting to take on board," says Walberg-O'Niel. "And I've had people inquire there from Marion to figure out how to get the downtown feel alive. And other people coming from other towns, like Little River and such, coming to our shops and asking us how to get the same kind of feel for the shops that they're trying to create in their communities."
Conway isn't the only city with a hyper-local focus for the holidays. North Myrtle Beach, Surfside Beach, Hartsville, and Darlington all plan to host tree lighting ceremonies, parades, and other fun holiday events. The Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce and the Oceanfront Merchants Association are also good sources for holiday plans in Myrtle Beach.
In Myrtle Beach, the chamber is making its push to shop local through social media. The chamber has a weekly ad that includes discounts from local businesses. And if you shop local, you can actually earn money. If you bring in receipts to the chamber totally $150 from local businesses, you can enter a drawing for one of five $250 gift cards. Last year, 1050 people brought in receipts.