At the Nordic Nook in downtown Stoughton there are candles, kitchen gadgets and socks with a Norwegian theme.
A block away, Brook Johnson has filled his Yahara Chocolate shop at 261 W. Main St. with his own creations and those from chocolatiers from around the world, in addition to the pottery he makes in his Green Road Pottery studio.
The businesses on this city’s historic main drag also include several others that sell a wide range of gifts, clothing, games, jewelry, artwork, books and cheese. And if you need a doughnut, ring of kringle or loaf of limpa rye bread, there’s Fosdal Home Bakery, which opened in 1939.
The vibe, a classic mix of stores and the city’s Norwegian heritage are what drew Marci Kadlec and her husband to open a carpet store in Stoughton in 2020 and to earlier this year purchase the Nordic Nook. And now that the holiday shopping season is here, Kadlec is counting on the growth of the buy local movement to help buoy sales at her Norwegian-themed gift shop.
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“I’ve fallen in love with Stoughton the last two years,” said Kadlec, who also has a carpet store in Madison. “There’s just something nostalgic about having a downtown, main street area. It’s like a little Hallmark town.”
While the plot of Friday’s shopping for many is all about door busters at big box stores and deals at the malls, small business owners, chambers of commerce and shopping district leaders throughout the region have for years urged shoppers to consider small businesses in their seasonal shopping plans. To help draw shoppers in, some areas host events such as tree lightings, visits with Santa and wine walks.
The advent of Small Business Saturday in 2010 added fuel to such efforts. The Monroe Street Merchants Association in Madison has drawings for tote bags, coffee mugs and gift cards. In Sun Prairie, downtown businesses offer discounts and the chance for customers to win a charcuterie board and wine bundle.
On State Street and around Capitol Square, home to 70 businesses, a holiday open house Friday through Sunday will offer free trolley rides, carolers, crafts and refreshments.
Dane Buy Local, which was established in 2004 and has about 600 members throughout the county, is also promoting Artist Sunday, encouraging shoppers to buy from local artists; a local Cyber Monday; and a Giving Tuesday, which encourages the support of local nonprofits.
“Every year the popularity of Small Business Saturday increases,” said Colin Murray, the executive director of Dane Buy Local who also owns a Middleton gift shop.
“And with the pandemic, it’s even more important to support our local small businesses. They’re still feeling the pain, and now there are employee shortages and concerns about getting their stores stocked up. Prices are going up, and it’s just one thing after another. They really need local support.”
Wisconsin-made products are also getting a boost.
The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection’s Something Special from Wisconsin program is hosting a holiday market from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday at the elementary school in Johnson Creek. The event will feature more than 70 Wisconsin companies that make beverages, lotions, snacks, spices, meats, cheese and other products.
And on a national level, six Wisconsin companies are among those featured in a gift guide from the Alliance of American Manufacturing. The products include work boots from Thorogood in Merrill, fabric creations from Sunny Day Designs in Madison, products from the Door County Candle Company in Sturgeon Bay and a handheld cultivation garden tool from CobraHead in Cambridge.
A different vibe
In downtown Verona, Rye Kimmett has been operating Kismet Books since November 2020. The 2,500-square-foot shop in a historic building at the corner of East Verona Avenue and North Main Street has two levels of books for all ages and also sells locally made candles. Sales are up 30% over 2021, and Kimmett, a former emergency room manager at UW Hospital, expects this December to be her best month ever.
“It’s really worked out,” said Kimmett, who has the only book shop in the fast-growing city. “I think post-pandemic, people are really focused on what their money does in the wider world. My phone has been ringing off the hook this morning from folks who are specifically avoiding the bigger box stores or Amazon because they want to keep their money in the community.”
Back in downtown Stoughton, Brook Johnson opened his pottery studio in 2017 and the chocolate shop, selling bars from the around the world, a year later. But in 2021, Johnson began been making his own chocolate bars using milk powder from Organic Valley in La Farge. The product has taken off, and he’s now selling his chocolate to other retailers in Dane County.
Johnson said he expects holiday sales to exceed those of 2021 and highlights his homemade chocolate on Saturdays with free samples as a way to introduce customers to a product that is vastly different from what is found in big box stores. The shop also has homemade butter toffee and salted caramels, further expanding sales.
“I think more people are returning every year. The last week has been really, really good. But I think what’s happening is that people are really concentrating on less for themselves and more for family and get-togethers,” Johnson said.
“Maybe there’s less personal consumption but still that drive to share something special with people they love. And I think that’s going to be more so this year.”