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Last-minute Christmas rush draws in business

Cathy Weber, of Dimock, owner of The Little Red Hen, located at 314 N. Main St. in Mitchell, wraps a gift bought by a customer on Saturday. Weber, like many downtown merchants, has been busy as the end of the holiday shopping season approaches. (Chris Mueller/Republic)

Cathy Weber, owner of The Little Red Hen in Mitchell, spends the entire year preparing her business for the holiday shopping season.

“It’s probably been busier than normal,” Weber said, referring to this year’s holiday shopping season. “It’s been a very good season for us.”

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In the last five years, taxable sales during the holiday shopping season — November and December — in Mitchell have increased 12.3 percent, from $61.8 million in 2008 to $69.4 million in 2012, according to reports by the South Dakota Department of Revenue. In that time, taxable sales during the holiday shopping season peaked at $74.4 million in 2011 and bottomed out at $61.5 million in 2009.

The Little Red Hen, a home décor and gift shop, and several other businesses in downtown Mitchell took part in Wrap It Up Weekend on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The event was meant as a last-minute shopping push by local businesses as the end of the holiday season approaches.

In recent years, Weber said, more people have become aware of the importance of shopping locally.

“They’re glad to see we’re busy,” she said. “They’re beginning to be more aware of how important it is to keep their money local.”

Brad Jamison, owner of Woelfel Jewelry, said his new customers always come to understand the value of shopping locally.

“If you spend money with me, I’m going to spend it around the community,” he said. “You spend money at Walmart, it disappears.”

Still, both Weber and Jamison said it’s difficult to ignore the competition from major retailers, both in Mitchell and in nearby Sioux Falls, as well as the competition from online retailers, such as Amazon and eBay.

“I just have to keep concentrated on my business and making it what my customers want it to be,” Weber said.

Smaller, local businesses can aspire to offer customers better service and perks, such as free gift wrapping, that larger businesses don’t offer, Weber said.

“If you go shop online, they don’t know who you are,” she said.

Ed Anderson, owner of Ed’s Pet World, agrees smaller, local businesses do have some advantages over the larger businesses.

“One thing we offer is customer service,” he said. “We usually know our customers by name.”

Kim Vilhauer, owner of Dakota Scents Gift Shop, said smaller, local businesses can appeal to customers by offering a larger variety of unique items that aren’t carried by the larger businesses.

Vilhauer said the holiday shopping season accounts for approximately 75 percent of Dakota Scents’ business for the entire year.

“Christmas is huge,” she said. “Very huge.”

In her observation, Vilhauer said, downtown shoppers this holiday season have been almost an even split between locals and out-of-towners, who she said play an equally vital role by bringing business into Mitchell.

“When they come to town, they’re going to eat, they’re going to buy gas, they’re going to do everything,” she said.

Megan Sabers, owner of Tickled Pink, said as more small businesses open in Mitchell, it will continue to attract more shoppers to the area.

“If you’ve got the good product, they’ll come here and buy it,” she said.